New absenteeism standards will challenge most districts

New absenteeism standards will challenge most districts

(Calif.) Potentially half of the local educational agencies in California will be identified as failing to meet chronic absenteeism standards under a performance matrix set for adoption this week by the state board of education.

Under state law, chronic absenteeism is defined as any student who is absent 10 percent or more of school, regardless of the reason. Schools and LEAs have been required to report their goals for reducing chronic absenteeism to the public for the last two years through their Local Control Accountability Plans.

Until now, however, the state has not yet applied a value to current rates, as in ‘good’ or ‘needs improvement’ or something in-between.

That is expected to change if the California State Board of Education follows through today with a staff recommendation to approve a five-level indicator, which will likely pose a big challenge for most districts and schools to meet.

To be considered safely outside the failing category, schools and LEAs need to have a chronic absenteeism rate of 5 percent or less. A status level of medium goes to schools and LEAs with a rate between 5 percent and 10 percent.

The high category goes from 10 percent to 20 percent, and very high would be applied to those above 20 percent.

Currently, the average rate of chronic absenteeism for California school districts is just above 10 percent.

Long overlooked by policy makers and even some educators, attendance habits of students is a critical component in shaping performance. A mountain of research has linked absenteeism—especially among early learners—with lower test scores and high dropout rates, as well as diminished employment opportunities, reliance on social welfare and even poor health outcomes later in life.

Gov. Jerry Brown along with legislative leaders included good attendance as one of the state’s key priorities within the Local Control Funding Formula, a massive restructuring of public schools that was enacted in 2013.

Congress also recognized its importance and gave states authority to make chronic absenteeism one of the performance indicators as prescribed by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

According to a report from Johns Hopkins University in September, about 8 million students nationally were chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year.

That figure is probably an under-count because it was based on the federal definition, which is a student that misses at least 15 days during the school year.

Currently, LEAs in California have been collecting their absenteeism numbers and have been required to report them as part of their LCAP. As early as next month, assuming the board follows through with the staff recommendations, LEAs will also receive a color grade corresponding to the absenteeism rate that will be included in the 2018 California Dashboard—the state’s web-based system for communicating school performance to parents and the public.

It is unclear at this point what sanctions schools and districts face that receive the orange or red indicator. The state board has been engaged in a comprehensive overhaul of the school accountability system for much of the last five years and is still refining policy surrounding the intervention component.

The board has also intentionally given schools some time to adjust to the new system before the threat of sanctions or intervention would even be contemplated.

It is important to note that policies may not stay the same even in the short term. The current membership of the state board will be changing come January when Gavin Newsom, newly elected governor, takes office. One of his first orders of business will be to appoint a new board president, as Mike Kirst, the board leader under Brown, is retiring.

There will also be a new state superintendent of public instruction, who could also have input.

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