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October 5, 2017

Chronic absenteeism: Missing class and missing learning

In a report out last week from FutureEd at Georgetown University, chronic absenteeism was highlighted as a key factor in the student achievement puzzle. The issue’s growing prominence may be due in part to its inclusion as a non-academic indicator in the majority of states’ ESSA plans. While there is wide agreement that missing school may have a negative impact on student achievement, there is less understanding of what causes chronic absenteeism and how to combat it.

Generally, the term “chronic absenteeism” refers to a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or approximately 18 school days. States including chronic absenteeism in their ESSA plans tend to utilize this standard definition, however, in its 2016 report on the issue , ED set the limit instead at 15 absences per school year.

Under this definition, ED found that approximately 13% of students in the country are chronically absent. Note that not all of these students were truant­–these absences may have been excused or unexcused. While truancy focuses solely on unexcused absences, measures of chronic absenteeism incorporate student absences for any reason to  emphasize the importance of all missed classroom time, no matter the reason.

Those attending elementary and middle schools have much lower rates of chronic absenteeism, while about one in four high schools has an extreme level of chronic absence, with over 30% of students absent more than 10% of the school year. At the middle school and high school level, chronic absenteeism may look different: a student may repeatedly skip a particular class or arrive to school late. While elementary students may be less likely to become chronically absent overall, they may be impacted by transportation, work, and lifestyle changes that effect the person that they depend on for transportation.  At any age, certain students may be more likely to become chronically absent: black students and those with disabilities are most likely to struggle with chronic absences. Asian students and English language learners are significantly less likely to be chronically absent.

No matter the personal characteristics of the student, determining a reason for chronic absenteeism and intervening is crucial to preserving a student’s learning. Chronic absenteeism has been found to be a strong predictor of later academic troubles. For example, experiencing chronic absenteeism as early as sixth-grade has been tied to an increased chance of dropping out of high school. In the early elementary years, being chronically absent can impede a child’s literacy development. This may have long-lasting effects, as a child who does not learn to read fluently by third-grade is more likely to continue to struggle academically throughout their schooling.

Given the serious long-term consequences of chronic absenteeism, school leaders are always looking for new approaches. When searching for and implementing solutions, however, it must be understood that chronic absenteeism may be only a symptom of a more complex issue. Students dealing with situations like poverty or chronic health conditions are not likely to respond to a punishment-based approach to chronic absenteeism. Instead, tackling the issue of chronic absenteeism will likely involve the identification and management of challenges personal to each student’s home and school environment.

A number of programs attempt to aid schools with this process, but few have yet developed a strong evidence base. Some programs, like the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System  and Check and Connect have shown promising results through systems that intervene early and pair attendance monitoring with support for students.  For all students, early identification is critical to implementing changes and recovering lost learning. Utilizing an attendance system that defines chronic absenteeism by the percent of school missed rather than number of days missed can help identify chronically absent students early on, allowing time to make changes and implement supports, rather than awaiting an end-of-year count of absences that may allow a student to miss a significant amount of learning in a school year.

Now that chronic absenteeism has been included in the majority of states’ ESSA plans, there is an increasing importance placed on understanding its complex causes and effects. Mitigating high rates of chronic absenteeism will be a complex task, requiring that school leaders examine the unique challenges facing every student. However difficult, reducing chronic absenteeism is ensures that students benefit from a full school year’s learning.

Filed under: CPE,ESSA — Tags: , , , , — Megan Lavalley @ 10:59 am





June 13, 2017

New research: Community schools are an evidence-based strategy for school improvement

Last week, in a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., six schools and community-based initiatives across the country were recognized for their excellence in utilizing the community schools model. The Coalition for Community Schools highlighted the considerable achievements of schools from New York City, Nashville, Chicago and Oakland.

CommunitySchoolsShotThe National Education Policy Center (NEPC) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) also presented new research at the event that supported the use of the community schools model as an evidence-based strategy for school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires that all interventions meet the “evidence-based” requirement, and this new research suggests that community schools more than meet that standard.

The community schools model may be a particularly effective strategy for improving schools in areas that struggle with high rates of poverty, because it creates a support system for students and families that addresses needs outside of the academic curriculum. Community schools create a system of partnerships and collaborations that address the needs of each child not only as a learner but also as a community member.

Because the needs and assets of each community are unique, there is no one formula for creating a community school. Each community school takes a unique approach to the model depending upon the circumstances of its students and families. However, all form partnerships and collaborations to create a set of integrated services that meet the needs of the whole child. Most are open before and after school—some even on weekends and during the summer—to provide students with wraparound support. Community schools provide services such as physical and mental health screenings, parent and community resources, and expanded learning opportunities like sports and arts programs.

Despite the variety of approaches, NEPC and LPI were able to identify common aspects of the community schools model that lead to success, including a wraparound student support system and a high degree of community collaboration and engagement. The newly released research also found that for every dollar invested in a community school, there will be a $10 to $15 return on investment within the community. In the awardee schools, chronic absenteeism and discipline referrals have decreased, test scores have increased, and fast academic growth has resulted in rising state ratings. Across the board, students and families report closer school and community ties. Using a wraparound support system, community schools may be a tool to close achievement gaps, prepare students for college and future careers, and promote positive outcomes throughout the broader community.






February 7, 2017

School Improvement Grants: Why didn’t $7 billion change results for students?

Mathematica recently released a study of the federal program of Student Improvement Grants (SIG). Their findings? Schools receiving the extra funds showed no significant improvement over similar schools that did not participate. With a price tag of $7 billion (yes, with a “b”), this strikes many as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Interestingly, the study also found no evidence that the SIG schools actually had significantly higher per-pupil expenditures than similar schools that didn’t receive the grants, which may have contributed to the mediocre results.

SIG awarded up to $2 million annually to 1,400 schools, which was administered by states. The program began in the 2010-11 school year and continues through the end of the 2016-17 year. Starting in 2017-2018, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will allow states to use up to seven percent of their Title I allotments to improve the bottom five percent of schools. States may choose to dole out funds via formula or competitive grants, but districts are the ones responsible for using evidence-based practices to improve schools.

Under the old SIG rules, the federal government required schools to choose from one of these four turnaround models:

SIG 1

The new report analyzed transformation, turnaround, and restart models, and found no statistically significant effects for any of them. The authors did find positive, but not statistically significant, effects on math and reading scores for schools receiving the grant, but lower high school graduation rates. Critics of the new report have noted that the mathematical model chosen was not sensitive enough to detect small effects. The authors did find mixed effects each year, which many studies would have the power to find as significant, but due to the design, these remain insignificant. To give perspective of the magnitude of these effects, the effect of decreasing elementary class sizes by seven students is about 0.2 standard deviations; the effect of urban charter schools compared to their neighborhood schools after one year is 0.01 in math and -0.01 in reading (0.15 and 0.10 after four years). According to the Mathematica study, the results of SIG in 2012-2013 were 0.01 standard deviations in math and 0.08 standard deviations in reading, with a drop of in the graduation rate (note that SIG had a positive impact on the graduation rate in 2011-2012, which suggests that these results are not statistically significant, or could be zero). Not enough to conclude a positive effect, for sure, but not nothing, either.

 

SIG3

I’ll offer a couple of my own thoughts (based on research, of course) on why SIG didn’t have the success that was hoped for:

1. The authors found no evidence that the grant funds actually increased per-pupil spending. In government-speak, the funds may have supplanted other funding streams instead of supplementing them, even though the law states that federal funds are supposed to supplement other funds spent. They found that SIG schools spent about $245 more per student than similar non-SIG schools in 2011-2012, and only $100 more in 2012-2013 (again the results are not statistically significant, meaning that we can’t confidently say that the difference isn’t zero). Recent studies have shown that spending makes a difference in education, so this may help explain why we didn’t see a difference here.

2. Students in many priority schools (the bottom five percent of schools), which are the ones that qualified for SIG grants, may have had the option to transfer to higher-performing schools. While the report doesn’t address this, it seems that students with more involved parents and better academic achievement may have been more likely to utilize this offer, thus lowering the average scores of the schools they left behind. Students perform better when surrounded with higher-performing peers, which means that the lack of overall effect could have been influenced by the loss of higher achieving students.

3. Schools receiving SIG grants were high-poverty and high-minority. The average rate of students eligible for free-and-reduced price (FRL) lunches in the study group was 83 percent, with non-white students making up 91 percent of the school populations (as compared with the overall school population being about 50 percent FRL-eligible and 50 percent non-white). While the resources allocated through SIG to these schools should have made spending more equitable, schools may have still struggled with recruiting and retaining experienced, qualified teachers, which is often a challenge for high-poverty, high-minority schools. Research is clear that integrated schools have better outcomes for students than segregated schools. Yet, the reform strategies used under SIG (replacing school staff and/or converting to a charter school) did little to improve school integration.

Hopefully, states and districts will learn from these lessons and use school reforms that fundamentally change the practices of the school, not just a few personnel: increased funding, school integration, changes in instructional practices, meaningful teacher/principal mentoring and development, and/or wrap-around services for students in poverty or who have experienced trauma.






February 6, 2017

School district partnerships with afterschool can help meet ESSA goals

Today’s post is from guest-blogger Jillian Luchner, who is a Policy Associate with the Afterschool Alliance.  The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children and youth have access to affordable, high-quality afterschool programs.

 

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the long-awaited successor to No Child Left Behind, creates a unique framework for school boards, teachers, administrators and communities to work together to make sure all children have access to high-quality, well-rounded education.

At the NSBA’s January 19 forum, “Public Education Agenda for America’s Success,” panelists discussed how the new law, new administration, and new Congress would affect education across the nation. Despite some level of uncertainty, panelists spoke to how school boards and local – even family level -decision making could be expected to play a larger role than in the recent past. When asked specifically about what school boards might do, much of the panelists’ conversation focused on the regular school day, but panelist Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute noted that afterschool programs are a time-tested, research-based part of the solution that should not be overlooked.

Afterschool and summer programs across the nation have a strong history of supporting school systems’ efforts to provide students with a well-rounded education that puts them on the path to wellness and success. These out-of-school-time programs provide students with educational opportunities, enrichment activities, access to physical activity and nutritious meals and snacks, as well as opportunities to build leadership and social connections. Notably, afterschool programs do all that during what’s sometimes called “prime time for juvenile crime” – the afternoon hours when children are most likely to be either perpetrators or victims of crime  and when working parents worry most about their children’s safety.

Research shows that students who regularly attend quality afterschool programs improve their academics, have better school attendance and are more likely to graduate. Moreover,  , the Afterschool Alliance’s recurring, nationally representative parent survey, consistently finds that parents strongly support afterschool programs. In the 2014 survey, the most recent, 89 percent of parents with a child in a program reported being satisfied with the program. In addition, 84 percent of all parents supported public funding for afterschool, while more than 7 in 10 said they think afterschool programs reduce the chance that their child will participate in risky behavior. Additionally, 80 percent of parents report that their children’s programs offer students opportunities for physical activity, and three in four parents are happy with the healthy snacks their student’s program provides. Despite high demand, for every child enrolled in an afterschool program, the parents of two more children say they would sign their children up, but cannot either because a program isn’t available or because it isn’t affordable.

District school boards often play an important role in leveraging resources to expand access to afterschool and summer opportunities. Afterschool and summer programs are frequently operated as a partnership among community nonprofits and school districts, with funding from federal, state and local sources as well as businesses, foundations, parent fees and other contributions. The average 21st Century Community Learning Center (a federally funded program that supports competitive grants in every state) has nine partner organizations with which it coordinates, which contribute in financial and in-kind support.

Across the nation, school system partnerships with afterschool programs have expanded opportunities for students while helping districts meet their goals for student success and family involvement.

  • The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Public School System has an out-of-school-time office that works with 80 different district partners to oversee summer programming for thousands of district students. Using research-based systems of support, the office coordinates closely with out-of-school time providers in the district and supports data, quality and systems-building to meet the city’s goals of graduation and college- and career-ready students.
  • In the early 1990s, the Corbin Independent School District (Kentucky) created the Redhound Enrichment afterschool program after conducting a community needs assessment in the district. Originally focused on providing a much-needed safe place for children in the afternoon hours, the program subsequently expanded its offerings to include more academic components, with the support of a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. Twenty-five years later, the program is still in operation, employing a project-based learning model to provide a mix of academic supports, hands-on activities, physical activity and opportunities to primary and secondary students.
  • In Redwood City, CA the district builds partnerships with non-profit and private providers including youth centers, parks and recreation, Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA to offer afterschool opportunities. The programs give children opportunities for academic support, developing new skills and relationship building as well as other opportunities. Parent surveys show 97% satisfaction with the programs.

Such efforts are the tip of the iceberg, as afterschool programs across the nation work with school districts to promote student success.

With the Every Student Succeeds Act going into full implementation this year, now is a perfect time for districts to coordinate more closely with afterschool and summer learning programs. Final state plans are due to the federal Department of Education in either April or September and many state drafts (see our map) are out now. As part of that process, school districts will engage parents and other community stakeholders to consider how to meet state goals for improving graduation rates, academic achievement and student engagement and reducing chronic absenteeism.

Afterschool and summer programs are well-poised to help meet all these goals, and the 50 statewide afterschool networks stand ready to help connect school districts with afterschool and summer learning programs in their communities.

 

Jillian joined the Afterschool Alliance team as a Policy Associate in 2015. Her work involves tracking trends in afterschool policy and programs at the state and federal level and communicating successful and innovative approaches toward supporting youth during out-of-school time. Jillian worked for years as a teacher and afterschool educator in the Washington D.C. region. She also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and community development director in California’s Central Valley. She holds undergraduate degrees in Economics and Geology and a Master’s in Public Policy specializing in education from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Filed under: After School,ESSA,Guest Blog,Parents,Public education — Tags: — Chandi Wagner @ 12:53 pm





November 17, 2016

What does “evidence-based” mean?

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires schools to use “evidence-based interventions” to improve schools.  The law also includes definitions of what evidence means, and recent guidance from the Department of Education has provided additional clarification on what passes as “evidence-based.”  Mathematica has also put out a brief guide on different types of data that have similar categories as the Department of Education, but also provide explanations for data we may see in the media or from academic researchers that do not qualify as hard data but can still help us understand policies and programs.

ESSA Evidence

What follows is a brief summary of what qualifies as “evidence-based” starting with the strongest first:

Experimental Studies:  These are purposefully created experiments, similar to medical trials, that randomly assign students to treatment or control groups, and then determine the difference in achievement after the treatment period.  Researchers also check to make sure that the two groups are similar in demographics.  This is considered to be causal evidence because there is little reason to believe the two similar groups would have had different outcomes except for the effect of the treatment.  Studies must involve at least 350 students, or 14 classrooms (assuming 25 students per class) and include multiple sites.

Quasi-experimental Studies:  These still have some form of comparison group, which may be between students, schools, or districts that have similar demographic characteristics.  However, even groups that seem similar on paper may still have systematic differences, which makes evidence from quasi-experimental studies slightly less reliable than randomized studies.  Evidence from these studies are often (but not always) considered to be causal, though experiment design and fidelity can greatly affect how reliable these conclusions are across other student groups.  Studies must involve at least 350 students, or 14 classrooms (assuming 25 students per class) and include multiple sites.

Correlational Studies: Studies that result in correlational effects can’t necessarily prove that a specific intervention caused students in a particular program to have a positive/negative effect.  For example, if Middle School X requires all teachers to participate in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and they end up with greater student improvement than Middle School Y, we can say that their improved performance was correlated with PLC participation.  However, there could have also been other changes at the school that truly caused the improvement, such as greater parental participation, so we cannot say that the improvement was caused by PLCs, but that further study should be done to see if there is a causal relationship.  Researchers still have to control for demographic factors; in this example, Middle School X and Middle School Y would have to be similar in both their teacher and student groups.

With all studies, we also have to consider who was involved and how the program was implemented.  A good example of this is the class-size experiment performed in Tennessee in the 1980s.  While their randomized control trial found positive effects of reducing class size by an average of seven students per class, when California reduced class sizes in the 1990s they didn’t see as strong of effects.  Part of this was implementation – reducing class sizes means hiring more teachers, and many inexperienced, uncertified teachers had to be placed in classrooms to fill the gap, which could have reduced the positive effect of smaller classes.  Also, students in California may be different than students in Tennessee; while this seems less likely for something like class size, it could be true for more specific programs or interventions.

An additional consideration when looking at evidence is not only statistical significance (whether or not we can be certain that the effect of a program wasn’t actually zero, using probability), but the effect size.  If an intervention has an effect size of 0.01 standard deviations* (or other units), it may only translate to the average student score changing a fraction of a percentage point.  We also have to consider if that effect is really meaningful, and if it’s worth our time, money, and effort to implement, or if we should look for a different intervention with greater effects.  Some researchers would say that an effect size of 0.2 standard deviations is the gold standard for really making meaningful changes for students.  However, I would also argue that it depends on the cost, both of time and money, of the program.  If making a small schedule tweak could garner 0.05 standard deviations of positive effect, and cost virtually nothing, then we should do it.  In conjunction with other effective programs, we can truly move the needle for student achievement.

School administrators should also consider the variation in test scores.  While most experimental studies report on the mean effect size, it is also important to consider how high- and low-performing students fared in the study.

Evidence is important and should guide policy decisions.  However, we have to keep in mind its limitations and be cautious consumers of data to make sure that we’re truly understanding how the study was done to see if its results are valid and can translate to other contexts.

 

*Standard deviations are standardized units used to help us compare programs, considering that most states and school districts use different tests.  The assumption is that most student achievement scores follow a bell curve, with the average score being at the top of the curve.  In a standard bell curve, a change of one standard deviation for a student at the 50th percentile would bump him/her up to 85th percentile, or down to the 15th percentile, depending on the direction of the change.  A report of the effect size of a program typically indicates how much the mean of the students who participated in the program changed from the previous mean or changed from the group of students who didn’t receive the program.

Filed under: CPE,Data,ESSA — Tags: , — Chandi Wagner @ 3:39 pm





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