Georgia Poised to Raise The Stakes on Attendance Rates

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Georgia schools will soon be held accountable for more than just raising student achievement. It appears that they also will be expected to make sure students get to class.

Georgia schools will soon be held accountable for more than just raising student achievement. It appears that they also will be be expected to make sure students get to class.

Under a policy recently adopted by the state's Education Coordinating Council, schools will receive an "exemplary" score on their school report card if 5 percent or fewer of their students are absent more than 15 days during the academic year.

"Acceptable"marks will go to schools where the percentage of students absent 15 or more days falls between 5 percent and 15 percent. Finally, if the percentage of students missing school is any higher than that, schools will receive an "unacceptable" score.

"There are some schools that are going to have to go to work on this," said Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

In fact, statistics presented at the May 23 meeting of the coordinating council showed that 10 percent of the state's students missed more than 20 days of instruction during the 2000-01 school year. Under the new criteria, about 700 of the state's 1,944 schools would get an unacceptable rating.

The new rules were written by the state's Office of Education Accountability, the agency charged with implementing Democratic Gov. Roy E. Barnes' school accountability plan. The standards for attendance, however, still need to be approved by the state board of education, which is expected later this month.

The Education Coordinating Council, created by the legislature in 2000, is chaired by the governor and made up by leaders of the state's four education agencies—preschool through college. The body is responsible for making sure that the state's policies and programs at the various levels of education are "seamless," and for preventing unnecessary duplication of services by the state.

In addition, the council is overseeing the implementation of Georgia's new accountability system. School report cards are already being issued by the agency, but elementary and middle schools still have until the 2003-04 school year before their scores trigger rewards or interventions. High schools have until the 2004-05 school year.

One of 10 Criteria

Although the attendance information won't contribute to a school's letter grade, it will appear on the school report card as one of 10 criteria on which schools will be rated. Another of those criteria is a school's dropout rate.

In formulating the new policy, Davis Nelson, the executive director of the accountability office, surveyed the state's 180 district superintendents on what they thought would be fair. In fact, he has asked for input from superintendents since he began working on the accountability system.

"I took the results and came up with a recommendation," Mr. Nelson said. While all superintendents and administrators might not completely agree with the policy, he added, at least they had the "opportunity to be heard."

Even so, the attendance standards are already causing some confusion at the district level.

Merri Brantley, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education, said some school officials were asking about whether more than 15 absences would be allowed as long as they were excused.

"I've got schools telling me they have kids who miss 40 days and still pass," Ms. Brantley said.

But Mr. Nelson told the coordinating council that students who miss more than 20 school days are twice as likely as those who don't miss that much time to score below the cutoff scores on state tests.

Though schools likely will be paying closer attention to their attendance rates in the future, Mr. Garrett of the superintendents' group said, parents are equally, if not more, accountable for making sure their children are in school.

"This is a place where we need to openly admit that there is a responsibility for this that lies elsewhere," he said.

Vol. 21, Issue 39, Pages 15, 17

Published in Print: June 5, 2002, as Georgia Poised to Raise The Stakes on Attendance Rates
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