Schools and districts in Washington that struggle with students missing too many days of class may be flagged for additional support under the new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.
For years under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, educators bristled at stringent rules that tied school effectiveness to student test scores in reading and math.
Schools that failed to reach specific test passage rates each year faced mandatory sanctions, and critics worried that created too much pressure to “teach to the test” and focused too much attention on just two subjects.
When Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with a new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, lawmakers kept the same testing requirements but also required states to select one non-test way to track school quality and student success.
Options include measuring school climate and safety, how prepared high-school graduates are for college and the workplace, family engagement and more.
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In Washington, where nearly 1 in 5 students are chronically absent, state education officials plan to add attendance to the mix.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction defines chronic absenteeism as 18 absences during a 180-day school year for any reason, excused or not.
State officials believe tracking that data can determine whether a school gives students a reason to show up to class or if there are deeper problems that educators may need help addressing.
“It’s a proxy for school climate,” said Krissy Johnson, state student assistance program supervisor. “It’s the most reliable data that we have (and) it’s collected on every school and every student.”
State officials haven’t decided how to help schools and districts with high rates of chronic absenteeism. But Johnson’s office already has held regional workshops and soon will start interviewing educators in districts that already are working to improve student attendance.
At the high-school level, the state also plans to keep track of how many ninth-grade students pass all their courses, and enroll in college-level courses, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate.
A growing body of research shows it makes a difference when students miss too many days of school.
Students with a history of poor attendance, for example, tend to fall behind their peers in third-grade reading. By middle and high school, they also are more likely to fail their courses and less likely to graduate on time, if at all.
The state’s plans still need approval from the federal government, and new state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said Monday that he won’t submit those plans until September.
One reason: To give the Washington Legislature, which convened this week, a chance to weigh in.
“I don’t expect any pushback (from the federal government), nor do I think the Legislature will take a deep dive, but we want to honor the fact that they are contemplating $3.5 billion in new funds and various accountability ideas,” Reykdal said.