1. Attendance data is captured in state longitudinal student data base.
Yes. Student attendance data is entered by school staff into PowerSchool and stored in CEDARS (Common Education Data Analysis and Reporting System), North Carolina’s PreK-13 longitudinal database.
2. State has a standard definition of what is chronic absence (ideally missing 10 percent or more of school for any reason).
Yes. In February 2018, the North Carolina State Board of Education approved a standard definition of chronic absence for use in the public schools. The Board policy defines a “student chronic absentee” as a student who “is enrolled in a North Carolina public school for at least 10 school days at any time during the school year, and whose total number of absences – excused or unexcused – is equal to or greater than 10 percent of the total number of days that such student has been enrolled at such school during such school year.”
There is not a clear definition of chronic absence at the federal level. Districts have been reporting chronic absence rates to the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) since 2012. OCR requests that districts define chronic absence as missing school for 15 or more days. For the first time this year, states have also been asked to report chronic absence data to another office of the US Department of Education through their annual federal data collection efforts. For that data collection, they have been asked to define chronic absence as missing 10 percent of enrolled days. North Carolina has brought this discrepancy to the attention of the US Department of Education and is hoping that before the next OCR reporting period, both branches of the Department will be using the same definition of chronic absence.
Attendance Works recommends using the definition the NC Board of Education settled on: 10 percent of the school year—the equivalent of two days every month or 18 days over a 180-day school year. This definition enables early detection and action to improve attendance.
3. State promotes public awareness about chronic absence, why it matters, and the need for a comprehensive approach that starts with support not punitive action.
No. North Carolina does not have a state-level public awareness campaign around regular attendance, and the state-level approach to chronic absence is more punitive than supportive.
Implementation policies created by DPI for the Compulsory Attendance Law state that:
superintendents of the Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are responsible for creating and encouraging public sentiment favorable to regular school attendance, and
teachers, principals and superintendents are responsible for keeping the public informed about the value, importance, and necessity of regular school attendance through classroom activities, PTA and teachers’ meetings, newspapers, periodical releases, and other media.
There do not appear to be specific state supports, assessments or implementation mechanisms in place to ensure that this is happening at the district level.
Social workers are responsible for working with students and families to analyze causes of absences and determine steps, including adjustments of the school program and obtaining supplemental services; however, social workers are only required to work with students who have “violated” the Compulsory Attendance Law.
School districts are encouraged to focus on non-standard types of data in the support of academic achievement through the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) process currently being implemented by schools. Chronic absence is a factor that can be focused on in Tier I of MTSS. MTSS is a multi-tiered framework that uses research-based academic, behavior and social emotional practices to support all students’ growth. In North Carolina, MTSS combines aspects of Responsiveness to Instruction (RtI) and Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS).
4. State calculates and makes publicly available reports on chronic absence rates (along with other measures of student attendance including ADA, truancy and satisfactory attendance) by district, school, grade and student sub-population.
No. The only publicly-available North Carolina data on chronic absence rates currently are those collected at the school-level and reported to the federal US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Classroom teachers enter the data, NC DPI pulls them from the student database into the state’s longitudinal database (CEDARS), which is used to feed the OCR template, and then districts add additional data to complete the submission to OCR. North Carolina has already reported the next round of chronic absence data (2015-16) to OCR, and that data should be publicly available in January 2018.
As mentioned above, states have also been asked to report chronic absence rates during their annual federal data collection this year. North Carolina will report those data to the US Department of Education in December.
5. State ensures families receive real time data on their children’s attendance and an alert if their child is at risk due to poor attendance.
Sort of. HomeBase is a suite of technology tools that pulls information from the state’s Student Information System database. PowerSchool is a digital application within HomeBase that provides a parent portal to student information, including attendance data. Codes are used in the parent portal to note whether absences are excused or unexcused. There is a twitter account @NCHomeBase and a YouTube channel dedicated to helping families understand and use the parent portal. Districts and schools decide whether or not to turn on the parent portal, and then families must choose to create a PowerSchool account and log in regularly to have access to their children’s attendance data. Families can also set the parent portal to email them when information is updated, including attendance information. These caveats and the fact that not all families have access to the internet and a computer mean that access to attendance data through the parent portal is necessarily limited. Data on the penetration rate of the parent portal are not available.
Even if they receive regular information about their children’s absences, families do not necessarily know when absences have reached such a high level that they are placing a child at academic risk. Missing 10 percent of school can occur by simply missing two days every month. Few families recognize that missing just two days in the first month or four days in the first two months of school is problematic.
Per North Carolina’s Compulsory Attendance Law, principals must inform parents whose children have accumulated three unexcused absences in one school year. Parents must be notified by mail after not more than six unexcused absences that they may be prosecuted if absences cannot be justified. After 10 unexcused absences, principals are directed to contact the Division of Social Services (DSS) or the juvenile court, as appropriate.
Compulsory Attendance Law alerts are triggered only by unexcused absences. There is no statewide alert system in place that is triggered by all absences, excused or unexcused. All absences should be considered when determining chronic absence, including excused absences.
6. Educators receive professional development about early warning signs of academic risk and drop-out, including chronic absence, and how to address them.
Maybe. Educators are not required by the state to receive these types of professional development, either for licensure or for license renewal. Some teacher preparation programs may include training in these measures, and others may not. In North Carolina, most professional development is directed and funded at the Local Education Agency (LEA) level, so some LEAs may provide or even require this training.
Staff are trained to look at a variety of student data when implementing Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), including academics, behavior, chronic absenteeism and social-emotional domains, to get a broad view of the school climate and social conditions for student learning. As part of the five-year roll-out of MTSS, all school districts and charter schools have been invited to receive professional development and coaching. This does not mean all educators statewide have been trained, however. Decisions about professional development and coaching were made based on a variety of factors, including readiness assessments. The Department of Public Instruction intends to use online professional development going forward to ensure statewide sustainability over time.
7. Underperforming districts and schools with high levels of chronic absence are required to address attendance in school improvement plans through positive universal strategies as well as targeted interventions.
No. Schools and districts with high chronic absence rates are not identified regularly by the state. There are no requirements in place that districts or schools address attendance through school improvement plans.
All districts and schools are encouraged to use the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)-recommended North Carolina School Improvement Planning Implementation Guide to create their school improvement plans. The guide suggests using a broad array of data to inform the process, including attendance data. As part of the guide, DPI provides a Comprehensive Needs Assessment, which asks if the school “frequently and systematically facilitates the early identification of students with attendance problems and provides support for both families and students.” MTSS is another identified framework for schools to improve conditions for students’ success, as highlighted in number (6), above.
8. Data on chronic absence are used to target and allocate public and community resources with potential to reduce barriers.
No. Data on chronic absence are not regularly analyzed at the state level, nor are such data used to determine resource allocation on the state level.
9. State policies and budget make improved attendance and reducing chronic absence a priority.
No. Until this year, chronic absence has not been an issue of focus in North Carolina state policies or budgets. There is no shared definition of chronic absence in the state, no regular data collection by the state beyond that required by the federal government, and no use of chronic absence at the state level as an accountability measure.
The topic has received more attention in the last few months, however, as North Carolina drafted and invited public comment on its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan. Stakeholders in the early childhood community, including the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, proposed including chronic absence as an accountability indicator in the state plan. Thirty-six other states and the District of Columbia included chronic absence as an accountability metric in their state ESSA plans.
The indicator was not one of the final measures in the plan. The following language was included however, reflecting an increased interest by the State Board of Education, the state Superintendent, and the Governor in learning more about the measure for possible future inclusion in the North Carolina School Report Cards or State Board of Education’s Strategic Plan for North Carolina public schools.
WORK AHEAD: Beyond the Accountability Indicators. As North Carolina continues to work to improve educational opportunities for all students, the SBE and the State Superintendent will continue the dialogue of determining the feasibility and appropriateness of incorporating some indicators identified through stakeholder involvement either in North Carolina’s School Report Cards or in the SBE’s Strategic Plan. SBE members are encouraging continued research and discussion around additional indicators including, among others, chronic absence, early childhood education, physical education, school climate, and a college- and career-ready index. The NCDPI will review how other states are including, or planning to include, similar indicators and will see what can be learned from them.26
The State Board of Education followed up those conversations by adopting North Carolina’s first standard, statewide definition of chronic absenteeism, consistent with guidance shared by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation and Attendance Works.