BY ERIN EINHORN, AMANDA RAHN – Feb. 22, 2018
Michigan and other states are focusing more on how often students are absent as a factor in determining a school’s performance. But a new study calls into question whether that’s a good idea.
Two Wayne State University researchers, Sarah Lenhoff and Ben Pogodzinski, said in a report published last week, that when it comes to whether a child will get to class, some schools have more influence over attendance than others.
Among factors that can influence attendance are how much families trust their teachers, whether the kids feel safe, and response to the school’s discipline policy.
Michigan is one of 36 states that plan to use chronic absenteeism to measure school performance under the federal education law. But the Wayne State study indicates that it is unreliable to use attendance as an mark of quality to compare schools when the effect of these influences can vary so much.
The findings are problematic for policymakers who want to use chronic absenteeism to judge schools, since the researchers found that in some cases, chronic absenteeism was unrelated to how well the schools were run. Students are considered chronically absent if they miss roughly at least two days of class a month, the report says.
But if GOP lawmakers in Lansing get their way, rates of chronic absenteeism will be even more prominent in determining the success of Michigan schools.
A senate committee Thursday heard testimony for an A-F school grading system. Rep. Tim Kelly, a Republican representing Saginaw County, sponsored the bill that would give schools six letter grades. One of those grades is for high rates of absenteeism.
“We can’t keep making excuses, it’s transportation or this or that,” Kelly told Chalkbeat. “We can’t keep sticking our heads in the sand and acting like it doesn’t matter. And I understand there’s a lot of contributing forces.”
But, “overall, you show me a high absentee rate and I’ll show you poor performance for a school,” he said.
Democrats on the Senate Education Reform Committee like Rep. Adam Zemke and Rep. Stephanie Chang were concerned the bill lacked nuance about similar issues to the ones raised in the report.
The study comes several months after Michigan’s plan to comply with federal education law was approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Chronic absenteeism is one of the factors the state will consider when evaluating school performance.