Attendance rates set to become federal benchmark

Attendance rates set to become federal benchmark

(Calif.) Already a key reporting requirement of the state’s new accountability system, attendance rates would now also become one of three measures used by federal officials to gauge school performance in California.

A proposal set to go before the State Board of Education next week, calls on local educational agencies to meet a target attendance benchmark – probably between 90-to-95 percent – or face intervention sanctions as prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The plan, which would also need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, comes forward as both state and federal officials struggle to find meaningful indicators of student performance other than standardized test scores.

California remains one of just six states in the nation that has not been granted a waiver from meeting the performance mandates set out in NCLB – including the requirement that all students test at proficient or better in English and math.

Last year, the Brown administration fought off demands from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that results from pilot testing of assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards be used for federal accountability purposes.

The two sides are once again negotiating over how California will legally meet the NCLB requirements without using test scores.

The state board suspended the Academic Performance Index in March, effectively giving students and teachers another year to adjust to the new content standards without having to worry about performance requirements. (See Monday’s story: http://bit.ly/1HPW6l5)

Federal law requires that states offer two measures for establishing the Annual Yearly Progress matrix.

Schools and districts that don’t meet AYP are subject to sanctions under Program Improvement.

Jenny Singh, who helps oversee school accountability at the California Department of Education, said the plan pending before the state board would establish participation in statewide testing as one federal indicator.

She said all schools would require that at least 95 percent of their students participate in statewide testing. In addition, there would be two separate indicators:

  • For K-8 schools, the additional indicator would be average daily attendance.
  • For high schools, the additional indicator would be graduation rates.

Use of attendance as a federal performance indicator has some precedence. According to a memo from the California Department of Education, 12 states have received federal approval to use attendance as one of the measures.

Although California is one of only a handful of states that does not collect student attendance data from its schools, districts are required to collect and report rates of attendance and absenteeism as part of their Local Control Accountability Plans – the state’s new mechanism for how schools will communicate a wide range of performance measures.

The CDE has proposed that the state board set the attendance benchmark at 90 percent for both elementary and middle schools.

Program Improvement is required for any LEA receiving Title I money that has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, with actual sanctions coming after a third consecutive year of falling short.

For most states, Program Improvement isn’t an issue because of the NCLB waivers issued over the past three years. Seven districts that are members of the California Office to Reform Education are also exempt under the same waiver option.

For the rest of California’s LEAs, however, Program Improvement is still a headache – especially for the best performing districts.

Today, more than half of the state’s LEAs are in Program Improvement – a total of 556 for the 2014-15 school year.