Leaders from three school districts told The 74 how they’re fighting the threat of manipulated attendance rates, which a majority of states choose to report as an accountability indicator under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Education department officials in California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia have all seen problems with their attendance data: An audit of DC Public Schools, for example, showed teachers toyed with attendance records, while hundreds of California schools have reported perfect attendance that officials attributed to data input errors, and schools in Connecticut have dis-enrolled and re-enrolled students with extended leaves of absence, according to the article.
Ultimately, it’s “a combination of vetting, embracing transparency, and developing detailed, easy-to-follow guidance” that were among steps these officials are taking to make sure the data they report isn’t manipulated or inaccurate, The 74 reports.
Under ESSA, states have to include five indicators: four academic achievement measures and one non-academic measure of school quality or student performance. Since the law passed in 2015, at least 36 states and the District of Columbia have decided to use chronic student absenteeism as this fifth indicator, and each state set its own goal to lower it. And so far, thanks to more accurate data than before, there’s a clearer picture of what’s actually happening in schools: In many, a recent study says, chronic absenteeism rates are trending upwards.
ESSA has tasked states with improving attendance rates, and, consequently, the accuracy of the data proving they’ve succeeded. In short, both are still a work in progress. While the states mentioned above have bettered their monitoring systems, it’s clear that many others are still struggling to report accurate information. That’s in part because schools are still saying they have no chronically absent students, or because the issue isn’t fully embedded in some educators’ minds.
ESSA’s accountability measure was supposed to push states to increase the overall quality of their schools’ education, but the law’s full-fledged effects post-implementation aren’t clear. The initial goal, back when the measure was signed, was to encourage a more well-rounded education by giving more power to states in creating less of a one-size-fits-all assessment approach. So far, it’s sure to create a push for embracing soft skills, like creativity, collaboration and communication. But at the same time, states have largely kept assessment programs centered on math and English to measure students’ performance, leading some to doubt its effects.
Chronic absenteeism rates vary among states, districts and even schools within a district. As a result, administrators from each school have to think critically about what they can do differently, and by having accurate data to reference, they’ll have another piece of the puzzle.