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Should Attendance, Discipline & School Safety Influence School Report Cards?

• Patricia Levesque

Students Sitting in Classroom

This is the fifth installment in a series by ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque, designed to give states guidance on how they can use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to advance student achievement.

Read previous posts: 

  1. School Accountability Under ESSA
  2. Focus School Accountability on Results
  3. Balancing Proficiency and Growth in School Accountability
  4. Developing Honest, Transparent and Effective Accountability Systems

We all can agree that improving student attendance is a desired goal.

Ensuring a safe school environment is another one.

And so, wouldn’t it make sense to include such data in a state accountability formula?

Allow me to make the case for why it does not.

Including such metrics can hamstring school leaders, disproportionately impact those schools that deal with challenging student populations, and have the unintended consequence of undermining student achievement.

Consider attendance.

Schools that serve more advantaged students will tend to have better attendance numbers.

Families are more stable, home needs are met and children have better access to transportation.

Schools that serve predominantly low-income students, on the other hand, often face significant challenges.

Families are more transient. Sometimes they are homeless. Children may skip school for the simple reason they don’t have clean clothes that morning. If they miss the bus, they have no other way to get to school, particularly with parents who work long hours to make ends meet.

Principals need flexibility in overcoming such obstacles, including working with parents and students on a personalized learning approach that focuses more on mastery of material than time spent in a seat.

Penalizing schools only creates unnecessary pressure on principals, diverts them from the primary focus of student achievement, and can create conflict with parents.

Adding discipline and safety measures into an accountability formula can also have unintended consequences.

For example, principals and teachers may feel compelled to ignore or withhold discipline of disruptive students to avoid sanctions against the school. That could have a negative impact on school safety as well the classroom learning environment. As teachers will tell you, all it takes is one or two students acting up to undermine that day’s lesson plan. And students quickly pick up on the consequences of such behavior – or lack thereof.

Working with their administrators, teachers require latitude in managing their classrooms. Educators should not have to be calculating the impact on their school’s evaluation in doing so.

Parents, educators and policymakers also may struggle to draw valid and reliable conclusions about school quality from safety and discipline metrics because incidents across schools can vary widely in both severity and frequency.

For example, it is very difficult for an accountability system and its limited metrics to distinguish between a school with one serious safety incident that endangers students, and a school with many, relatively minor disciplinary actions.

It is the job of states to set goals for schools to meet. These should include student performance in core subjects, graduation rates, and career and college readiness.

School districts and educators, who best know the unique challenges of the communities they serve, then should have the freedom and flexibility to meet the goals.

An accountability system should focus on objective, measurable student learning outcomes that are transparent and easily conveyed to parents and communities.

Inputs such as attendance, discipline and school safety can be included in a school report to parents to give them a broader understanding of their children’s learning environment. But it is secondary to the critical information parents most need: Is my child in a school where students are learning what they need to know in order to succeed?

For more resources and information concerning the Every Student Succeeds Act, visit ExcelinEd’s Policy Library.

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at