One leading indicator that schools often consider when developing a performance management plan (or school improvement plan) is school attendance. It is argued that attendance is a leading indicator of achievement because if students are missing school they are missing important learning opportunities. More often than not, when schools decide to measure attendance they select attendance rate (or average daily attendance). Schools might set targets to achieve 95% ADA for the year or a minimum of 95% ADA if tracked monthly. The problem with ADA is that it can mask attendance problems.
I was planning to write this blog post yesterday, but happened to notice that the Attendance Works website was sponsoring a website on exactly this topic. In the PowerPoint deck for the webinar they make the important point that a school with 95% ADA could have more 15% of their students chronically absent (missing 15 or more days in a year). In other words, while 95% sounds great, 15 out of a 100 kids are missing 15 days or more each year. Whether a student is chronically absent or not can predict achievement issues . For example, in the webinar yesterday they stated that a kindergarten student that is chronically absent:
- Scored 20% lower in reading and math in later grades and gap grows
- Two times as likely to be retained in grade
- Two times as likely to be suspended by the end of 7th grade
- Likely to continue being chronically absent
The Department of Education is reporting similar achievement impacts. Frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child's future. The effects start early and spiral dramatically over time.
- Children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read on grade level by the third grade.
- Students who can't read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
- By high school, regular attendance is a better dropout indicator than test scores.
- A student who is chronically absent in any year between the eighth and twelfth grade is seven times more likely to drop out of school.
A study in Arizona several years ago found that students that are chronically absent in kindergarten are more likely to dropout (missing an average of 145 days by 8th grade). In other words, instead of focusing on our attendance rate and trying to raise a global metric that may mask deep problems, we should be measuring chronic absenteeism and targeting our response.
So how can you measure chronic absenteeism to make it actionable? After all, if you wait until the end of the year to see who has missed 15 days or more it is a little late for an intervention. First, start measuring chronic absenteeism now. The best predictor of who is likely to be chronically absent is the student who was chronically absent in the past. Your school should begin the next school year with a list of students who missed 15 or more days in the previous year. These students are high-risk and you should begin interventions immediately. Second, measure chronic absenteeism ongoing. At the end of September measure the proportion of students that missed two or more days. Review the list and determine whether to intervene. At the end of October measure the proportion of students who have missed four or more days. Continue this practice of measuring the proportion of students chronically absent, generating a list of students, and determining intervention.
Also, very soon the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will be releasing data on chronic absenteeism rates by district, school, and sub-groups. These data will be available to the media and the public upon release. It makes sense that schools should be prepared to discuss what interventions they have planned to reduce the local rates.