California will begin its first statewide collection of data on students who are chronically absent, a key indicator of academic trouble, the California Department of Education said Thursday.
The need for a statewide pool of absenteeism data long has been disputed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who in 2014 vetoed two attendance-collection bills and wrote, “Keeping children in school and learning is a priority, but collecting more data is not the primary solution.”
The change is the result of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama in December, which requires states to collect and report data on chronic absenteeism.
Keric Ashley, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview that the state will begin collecting the data from districts in late spring 2017, based on attendance for the 2016-17 school year, and will use its current definition of chronic absenteeism as a student who is absent more than 10 percent of the days in a school year.
Districts will upload their data into the state student data system known as the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. Housing the data in that system will allow the state and the districts to disaggregate the findings by factors that include gender, eligibility for free and reduced priced meals and ethnicity, Ashley said. The statewide data will be publicly available.
Districts will report two figures at the end of the school year for each student: the number of days in the school year and the number of days the student attended. If a student attends a school for only a few months, chronic absenteeism would be calculated by the number of days a student could have attended the school divided by the number of days the student did attend.
“What it doesn’t do is look at data in real time,” Ashley said. “This isn’t something to be used as an early warning system.” Instead, the data will give school districts a look at how well they are keeping track of students who are missing more than 10 percent of school.
Advocates have urged districts to develop faster ways to identify students who are missing a lot of school, for excused reasons, unexcused reasons or disciplinary suspensions, so interventions can be put in place. In a letter to acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King, the nonprofit organization Attendance Works urged that districts be asked to analyze their data “on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, if not in real-time” to quickly identify students who have missed 10 percent or more of school.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has said that focusing on elementary school attendance is a “smart, cost-effective” approach to improving students’ lives and keeping them out of the justice system she oversees, has made no secret of her frustration with data collection. For years, she has lobbied for a statewide data collection system for chronic absenteeism. California has been one of a handful of states that does not collect that data.