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#AskExcelinEd: How Should Chronic Absenteeism Factor into Accountability?

• Liya Amelga

This week we take a look at ESSA and chronic absenteeism with Associate Director of K-12 Liya Amelga explaining what state accountability systems should measure.

Last week, I tuned into the webcast of the Beyond Reading and Math: How to Accelerate Success for Students. The event served as a launching pad for a discussion on the Hamilton Project’s newly released strategy paper, Reducing Chronic Absenteeism under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides a six-point framework for implementing accountability plans focused on reducing chronic absenteeism.

In addition, the forum highlighted the George W. Bush Institute’s related work, The ‘A’ Word series and their State of Our Cities online tool. Check out The 74 article ‘Accountability Shouldn’t Be Considered a Way of Limiting a Child’s Progress’ contributed by our very own VP of Policy Lizzette Reynolds.  

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state is required to include a measure of school quality or student success (SQ/SS) in their accountability calculation for differentiating schools on an annual basis. The most common SQ/SS indicator identified in the plans (37 out of 52 to be exact) is a measure of attendance/chronic absenteeism. For more on SQ/SS indicators check out #AskExcelinEd: What are states using as School Quality and Student Success Indicators?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2015-16 school year, 8 million of the nation’s students were chronically absent, which it defines as missing 15 or more days of school in a school year. This is a serious problem since attendance is an important factor in making sure that students have the opportunity to learn.

Although I am glad to see that states are setting the expectation that their schools must act to improve student attendance, I remain deeply troubled by the importance states are placing on chronic absenteeism in their school accountability calculations.

Instead, these calculations should focus on direct student learning outcomes, such as performance in science and social studies; college entrance exam scores; and earning college credit or industry certifications.

This is not to say measuring attendance isn’t also important. We know that chronic absenteeism has negative effects not only the student absent from class, but also their peers. We support monitoring and reporting of attendance indicators and keeping the accountability calculation based on direct student outcomes. If considered, an attendance indicator should be given no more than five percent weight. Check out this video shown at the start of the webcast for a quick demonstration of impacts of chronic absenteeism.

Bottomline: Including chronic absenteeism in accountability calculations in place of indicators of actual student success is not the answer. Accountability systems shouldn’t be tying high stakes to whether students are filling seats, but instead to whether they have something to show for their time spent in those seats.

About the author

Liya Amelga

Liya Amelga serves as the Associate Director of K-12 Reform supporting ExcelinEd’s K-12 reform agenda with a focus on the Every Student Succeeds Act. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as the Special Assistant to the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore City Public Schools drafting and maintaining district policies and overseeing appeals and ethics complaints to the Board. A native of Orange County, California, Liya earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park and her J.D. from the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law. Liya currently resides in Maryland and is based out of ExcelinEd’s D.C. office.