It’s often said that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is.

That’s why the California Department of Education sent letters to nearly 250 schools last month — including more than half of the schools in San Francisco Unified — asking them to re-check their attendance records after they submitted data to the state showing every one of their students had perfect attendance during the 2016-17 school year.

The data was submitted as part of California’s first-ever statewide count of chronic absenteeism. The 246 suspect schools, which come from 83 districts, make up about 2.4 percent of the just over 10,000 schools that submitted attendance data.

“The first time out with any data collection you’re going to have some issues,” said Paula Mishima, an education administrator for the California Department of Education’s longitudinal data system known as CALPADS. “There are some schools out there that have bad data.”

State education officials sent the letters on Jan. 28 to schools that reported zero absences, said Karen Almquist, another CALPADS administrator. The districts are being asked to “either confirm that certified data are accurate or explain why data may be inaccurate.” They must reply by Friday.

Eighty-three of the schools that reported perfect attendance came from San Francisco Unified, one of the largest districts in California with more than 50,000 students enrolled at 136 schools.

The district reported 8.3 percent of its overall student body was chronically absent, which refers to students who miss at least 10 percent of class days for any reason, but Mishima said the department does not consider district-wide data from San Francisco to be an accurate reflection of its chronic absenteeism rate.

“They admitted to us that they made a mistake,” Mishima said of San Francisco Unified.

State and San Francisco officials acknowledged the data problems in response to questions from EdSource after an analysis found the district reported a 1 percent chronic absenteeism rate at its non-charter schools.

San Francisco Unified spokeswoman Jessica Qian Wan said the error came about when the district transferred its attendance data from an internal system to a state system. The district’s student information system accurately captured that attendance data and San Francisco officials will resubmit that information by Friday’s deadline, Wan said.

She did not provide an updated estimate for San Francisco’s chronic absenteeism rate.

The suspect data for San Francisco remains posted on the state’s DataQuest website for now, with no indication that state officials doubt its accuracy.

Almquist said once the department has received responses from the districts it will add notes about potential errors where appropriate. The department also plans to recalculate the reported state average chronic absenteeism rate of 10.8 percent after receiving responses, Almquist said, though there is no timeline for doing so.

The state board is expected to decide at its March meeting whether to accept data from the 2016-17 school year as a baseline against which future chronic absence levels will be measured. If the board opts to use that data, chronic absenteeism statistics would be included in the dashboard starting next fall, once officials have data from the 2017-18 school year.

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