ESSA Plans Are In; NC is One of Only Nine States to Forego Measure of Overall Child Well-Being

States have submitted their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans to the federal Department of Education, and according to an analysis by Child Trends, North Carolina is one of only nine states to include only academic indicators in their proposed accountability systems. Forty-one states and DC chose to include some measure of overall child well-being – such as chronic absenteeism, school climate, school discipline, or other health or wellness measure – as their indicator of “School Quality or Student Success.”

In requiring such an indicator, the federal government acknowledged that states need to improve the conditions in which students learn to see improvements in proficiency rates. Including an indicator of student wellness – chronic absence or school climate – in school accountability systems helps keep schools focused on supporting students’ overall wellbeing.

Thirty-four states and DC chose chronic absenteeism as their additional indicator. Six chose a school climate survey, five chose a school discipline measure, and five chose another health or wellness measure. Nine states, including North Carolina, chose an additional academic indicator instead of a measure of overall child well-being. (Numbers do not add up to 51 because some states chose to include more than one of these indicators.) North Carolina’s chosen additional indicator for elementary and middle schools is EVAAS academic growth scores, which include student performance on the English language arts/reading (ELA), mathematics, and science assessments.

Even though states’ plans have been submitted, they can revise them as they begin to implement. North Carolina should consider joining the rest of the nation in holding schools accountable for providing a healthy school environment.

Why Chronic Absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism was the overwhelming choice for the additional indicator – of two-thirds of states. Why is it a good fit? Chronic absenteeism serves as an early predictor of student performance and is one of the few available measures of school quality for the early (untested) grades. Including the early grades in measurements of school quality encourages investment and continuous improvement in early learning. Chronic absence is actionable, even with few resources. It allows for meaningful differentiation among schools, and it is also a measure that is already reported by school districts to the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and is based on data already maintained in district data systems.

Research demonstrates that regular school attendance is critical for children’s early literacy development, starting in preschool.(1) Early chronic absenteeism is associated with lower academic achievement, truancy in middle school, school dropout, delinquency, and substance abuse.(2)

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(1) Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Attendance in the Early Grades: Why it Matters for Reading, 2014.

(2) Annie E Casey Foundation, Early Warning Confirmed, op. cit. and Schorr, L., Pathway to Children Ready for School and Succeeding at Third Grade, op cit.