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Chronic absenteeism and indicators for careers and colleges will be added to California’s education “dashboard”

A divided State Board of Education decided on Thursday to increase the indicator of college/career preparation and to include it along with chronic absenteeism in the upcoming California School Dashboard edition. Test scores, graduation rates, and suspension rates are just a few of the student success metrics that the dashboard, which was introduced last year, ranks schools and school districts on. Only pupils up to grade 8 will be included by the new chronic absenteeism dashboard indicator, which tracks students who miss 10% or more of school each year. The California Department of Education made a proposal that led to that decision, which surprised advocacy groups for schools and students. T Hedy Chang, founder and executive director of San Francisco-based Attendance Works, noted in a letter to the state board that “chronic absence is a particularly critical indicator at the high school level of whether children are on or off track for high school graduation.” A national nonprofit organisation called Attendance Works exhorts schools to deal with absenteeism patterns as soon as possible. The letter made notice of the fact that, with the exception of three states, all of the 35 states that have adopted chronic absenteeism as a school accountability metric include it as a K–12 indication. In 2016–17, the state began gathering and disclosing information on chronic absenteeism from schools and districts for all grades. However, it requires a minimum of two years of data to qualify as a dashboard indicator, which assigns one of five colours to schools and districts.

Significant differences in the rates of chronic absences

A second year will be provided by the data from 2017–18. 10.8% of students statewide missed more than 10%, or at least 18 days, of school in 2016–17. However, there were significant differences in the rates of chronic absences, which ranged from 3.6% for Asian kids to 18.8% for African-American pupils. Chang and others claimed that the fact that more high school pupils than elementary kids were chronically absent was all the more reason to rank and emphasise upper grades and call attention to underperforming school districts and student groupings. However, Cindy Kazanis, the director of the Department of Education’s Analysis, Measurement and Accountability division, claimed that graduation rates and students’ success on the indicator for college/career preparedness serve as substitutes for a chronic absenteeism indicator. The indicator cannot function as an early-alarm system because data on chronic absenteeism are only gathered at the conclusion of the academic year. According to her, districts already use attendance data to address chronic absenteeism and have regional school attendance committees to deal with truant pupils. A crucial component of the state’s accountability system for school districts under the Local Control Funding Formula is the multicoloured dashboard.

The financing law specifies areas of student and school performance that districts must target in their Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, an annual improvement plan, in addition to allocating additional money to low-income children, foster youth, and English learners. Parents are one of these, as is preparing kids for life after graduation. Chronic absences are seen by the law as a symptom of low student participation. The justification for including high school is that the dashboard grabs people’s attention, and financing is directed by attention. Districts must describe in their LCAPs how they will allocate funds for improvement if they have student groups with red ratings, which indicate the lowest performance. Bruce Holaday and the other board members made it known that they supported the idea of putting high school grades in the indicator but abstained from voting on it.

Careers or college?

The college/career readiness indicator gauges how effectively districts and schools are preparing students for life beyond school and for employment. The indicator’s objective, according to Kazanis, is to persuade districts to provide all pupils with a wide range of options. The state started gathering data last year, and now that it has two years’ worth of data, it will also be included in the dashboard, with districts and schools receiving different colours depending on how well they are performing. The metrics used thus far, however, have been heavily test-based and college-focused: they measure how well students perform on the Smarter Balanced exams, how many of them pass two or more AP exams, and how many of them finish the necessary course work to be admitted to California State University and the University of California. Although state administrators and board members understand the need for more specific ways to gauge readiness for employment, completion of a vocational technical education pathway is also a criteria. The board increased the indication on Thursday by including two new components for the December dashboard: graduates of military leadership training and pupils who have earned the State Seal of Biliteracy, proving competency in speaking, reading, and writing in at least one foreign language.

Pupils who achieved the Seal of Biliteracy

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is provided by several districts, is the most well-liked method. According to the standards that the board decided upon, almost 39,000 pupils who achieved the Seal of Biliteracy and 2,200 students who fulfilled the junior ROTC requirements would register as “prepared” for college or careers. Board members, however, voiced concerns about adding features without a clear knowledge of what a job or college included throughout the two-hour session. Is it “college and careers,” suggesting that courses should help students get ready for both? Or is it career or college, suggesting that it is acceptable to train some pupils for careers and others for college? The Department of Education has cheated for the time being by calling it college/career. Although it may take years to adopt more accurate techniques to gauge the dual preparation, the intention is to eventually refer to the indicator as “college and career,” according to Deputy State Superintendent Keric Ashley. The State Seal of Biliteracy had a simple math requirement that staff had suggested adding, but board members removed it.

They also rejected the recommendation made by the staff to include the Golden State Merit Diploma, which is awarded to students who get B+ or above grades in at least 12 high school courses that cover a variety of subjects. High marks on the year-end tests were necessary when the seal was first established by the legislature twenty years ago. It wasn’t as generally known back then and was more strict. The criteria in the indicator, according to board member Patricia Rucker, need to be uniformly consistent in the level of rigour they demand. Board member Feliza Ortiz-Licon stated, “There is no general understanding as to whether it is ‘or’ or ‘and’. The board continued their debate and then departed. Some urged the state board to reinstate high school grades since they had expected it would apply to all grades.