ESSA compliance and reducing chronic absenteeism

Recently we talked about The Every Student Succeeds Act, known as ESSA, the first iteration of our U.S. national education law that specifically mentions chronic absenteeism. Former iterations of the law (ESEA, No Child Left Behind) only included stipulations for truancy, and schools only reported on average daily attendance (the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction). Chronic absenteeism differs from truancy in that it tracks both excused and unexcused absences, and accounts for missed class periods. It also uncovers absence trends that are often unrepresented in average daily attendance numbers.

ESSA’s specific inclusion of chronic absenteeism is significant; currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to implement ESSA that now include chronic absence as a measure on which they will report and to which they will hold schools accountable. ESSA requires all states to report the data, even if it isn’t used for accountability.

But how do these states plan to measure and fight this pervasive issue? What steps should they take to begin to significantly reduce chronic absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism affects about 6.5 million students across the country. A recent report from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center shows that 30% or more students are chronically absent at almost 10,000 public schools across the U.S. These staggeringly high numbers indicate larger, systemic issues within our education system and in low-income communities (in which chronic absenteeism is especially high). If we are going to begin to address this problem, we must start by tracking thorough, meaningful data on missed class time.

In a new report from FutureEd, a ThinkTank at Georgetown University, authors Phyllis Jordan and Raegan Miller say that states should start by setting standard definitions of what counts as an absence. For example, how many periods count as a full day?

Setting standard definitions for what counts as an absence is part of keeping students and their parents informed about how much school they’re missing. Absences add up quickly; missing just 2 days a month means a child misses 10% of the school year (at which point, the student is considered chronically absent in most states). Our annual  Impact Assessment (for release in Jan. 2018) revealed that many students were not aware of just how much school they were actually missing–nor were their parents. Families appreciated that KiNVO–our app for enabling easy parent/teacher communication and tracking accessible attendance data–keeps them informed about student attendance patterns.

The next step will be to set reasonable goals for schools and districts, which many states have not yet done. Setting goals for widespread issues that vary district to district–and student to student, for that matter–can be quite difficult. It’s important to be ambitious, but realistic, and specific, but inclusive. For example, No Child Left Behind’s standard proficiency metric did not account for students’ backgrounds going into standardized tests, and thus received significant backlash for doing more harm than good in many cases. A state must determine which percentage of chronically absent students is too high for a school, and then determine a way to measure improvement.

Some states did include a measure of improvement in their goals for chronic absenteeism, which they plan to assess in relation to grades and test scores (as attendance and achievement are typically linked). Assessing attendance data through this lens is a very good place to start.

After setting standard definitions and goals, FutureEd emphasizes the importance of assigning the appropriate weight to chronic absenteeism in state accountability formulas, and creating inclusive but fair chronic absenteeism models that discourage schools or districts from gaming the attendance system.

Last but certainly not least, we must support teachers and administrators in planning interventions within their schools. Teachers and administrators are fighting on the front lines to ensure that all of their students are in class as much as possible. Equipping teachers with the tools to more easily communicate with families and plan meaningful interventions is a crucial part of process. Kinvolved supports teachers and administrators by providing them with tools to facilitate data-driven discussions and interventions; helps them streamline daily routines to increase bandwidth; and strengthens engagement by enabling new connections and conversations between educators, students, and families.

In the coming months, we will continue to explore ESSA policy, state accountability plans, and how Kinvolved can continue to grow and evolve to support districts implementing plans to combat chronic absenteeism.