Putting Attendance on the Map

 //  Sep 26, 2018

Putting Attendance on the Map

Over the past decade, attendance has moved from the back of the class to the front row, becoming more of a priority nationwide. Driving that change has been organizations such as Attendance Works, a national nonprofit focused on reducing absenteeism. Their research and advocacy has been instrumental in putting attendance on the map.

Produced by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution in coordination with Attendance Works, the Chronic Absence map harnesses a vast quantity of absenteeism data to create a visual outline presenting the information in an easily accessible and actionable way. The Chronic Absence map is designed to bring visibility to the problem of chronic absenteeism on a state and district level.

Do you know your district’s chronic absence level? Your state’s? How one elementary school in your district compares to another? How those figures break down by demographic subgroups? With the Chronic Absence map, you can see those figures instantly. You can also compare districts or schools side-by-side. Perhaps most critically, you can drill down and look at the detail for different subgroups to reveal patterns masked by the broader picture.

According to Hedy N. Chang, director of Attendance Works, “it’s looking at the data more closely that will allow the parents, principals, and policymakers to notice where there are patterns of inequity which need to be disrupted.”

Chronic Absence Is an Equity Marker

The map accompanies a new report released by Attendance Works, Data Matters: Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success. The report crunches national and state data to reveal the number of schools facing high levels of chronic absence. In the 2015–16 school year, nearly 8 million students in the nation were chronically absent, an increase of more than 800,000 students from 2013–14. 

With data collected by the Office for Civil Rights, the analysis highlights underlying equity issues by exploring the connection between chronic absence levels and demographics. The report also provides multiple resources for determining and addressing the root causes of chronic absence.

With increasing accountability built into federal legislation, these resources arrive not a minute too soon. As you likely know, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires all states to include chronic absence data in their annual school report cards. In addition, ESSA requires all states to incorporate an additional accountability metric in their implementation plans. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia haven chosen chronic absence as their extra indicator—adding even greater accountability.

This elevation of chronic absence to the national stage is the culmination of over a decade of research and work reinforcing the impact chronic absence has on learning, not just for the individual, but rippling through the entire school population. Those large-scale effects hit areas of poverty particularly hard. That’s one reason why Hedy N. Chang has been leading the charge in recognizing attendance as a lever for increasing equity. She notes:

“One of the biggest shifts we need to make as a country is to move away from simply blaming children and families for poor attendance and instead change our mindset, to viewing absenteeism as a symptom. On the individual level, chronic absence is a symptom that a child may be facing adversity, stress, lack of engagement, or other barriers that we can identify and address. On a broader level, chronic absence is a symptom of inequity, that not all children are receiving the promise our society makes of equal access to education and opportunity. But we’ve learned an enormous amount. We now know that improving attendance is one of the greatest tools for closing that opportunity gap, and we know how to do it. It’s a needle we can—and must—move.”

Examining chronic absence data helps tell us which students are most affected by missing school in time for us to take action—to remove barriers and give every student an equal opportunity to learn.

Why How We Count Counts

How we track attendance, and what we do with that information, has come a long way. Attendance is no longer focused on “truancy.” It’s not just about “average daily attendance.”  Nor is it a compliance box to be checked off.

  • Chronic Absence Defined: Attendance Works recommends that chronic absence be defined as missing 10 percent of school—the equivalent of two days every month or 18 days over a 180-day school year.
  • Early Warning System: By that measure, missing just two days in the first month of school triggers an alert that a child may be in danger of becoming chronically absent. This understanding better enables early detection and action to improve attendance.
  • Not the Same as Truancy: Chronic absence is different than truancy, which typically refers only to unexcused absences. But any absence is time away from learning–excused or unexcused–and is counted in chronic absenteeism data.  
  • Not the Same as ADA: Chronic absence level (how many students don’t attend school regularly) differs from average daily attendance (how many students typically do attend school each day).
  • Unmasking Barriers: Both truancy and average daily attendance can easily mask substantial levels of chronic absence. Chronic absence data can serve as a flag, pointing to outside challenges. When absences are marked as excused, young children facing adverse circumstances at home may slip through the cracks.  
  • Poverty Impact: Although chronic absenteeism is pervasive in all types of districts and subgroups, analysis points to poverty as a critical factor linked to high levels of chronic absence.

Once you’ve had a chance to identify the chronic absenteeism data relevant to your district, Scholastic Education can help to address it. Click here to connect with us.

 The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution