Blog Post Category:

8/25/2016

Addressing the Needs of Students who are Chronically Absent from School

By: Chris Woolard

The end of August is always a bittersweet time of year as the end of summer combines with the excitement and nervousness of a new school year. I still get butterflies, and I know how anxious my own kids are for the new challenges ahead. My three are so excited about going to school (maybe not so much the earlier alarm clock), but they are ready to go.

One issue that has been getting more attention, not only in Ohio but nationally, is the importance of addressing the needs of students who miss a significant amount of school. It may be common sense that students need to be in school, but data and research is starting to add much more insight into just how important it is. Students are missing more and more instructional time, and it’s having a very real impact on the way that our students are able to learn, grow and be successful.

Every day can’t feel like that first day, but every day is still important

Chronic absence is more than just attendance, as it focuses on students who miss a significant amount of instruction. In Ohio, we define it as students who miss more than 10 percent of the days in a school year. This adds up. It could be two days of every month or longer stretches throughout the year, but regardless, that translates into big chunks of missed instructional time. A student who habitually misses a day here and there but adds up to 20 days over the course of a year may have much different needs than a student who misses three straight weeks of school. This makes it a challenge for students to keep up and for teachers to be able to keep pace. Chronically absent students are less likely to be readers in the early grades and less likely to graduate. In some parts of our state, nearly one-third of students are chronically absent.

There are many reasons why students are chronically absent beyond just illness — bullying, homelessness and other family situations to name a few. But there are many more reasons why students may not be regularly present in school. These are serious issues that require community efforts across sectors to address.

Across the country, many schools and organizations are coordinating efforts to help communities address their unique concerns. There are some fantastic examples of schools working with community partners to provide dental clinics, after-school programs and mental health services. Cleveland’s recent campaign included support from the Cleveland Browns and focused on students who were missing a few days of school per month.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a toolkit to help guide the conversation with health care providers, juvenile justice authorities, nonprofits and other community partners. Attendance Works is a project working with many states and districts to help develop proactive strategies. Its effort to call attention to these issues through September Attendance Awareness month includes many resources and promotional materials.

What can communities do? Attendance Works has created a list of 10 things communities can do to help address chronic absenteeism. But it starts with making sure that school attendance is a priority for your own children. You also can get involved in your neighborhood schools and see what they need. Help students find ways to connect school to their passions. Volunteer as a mentor, support a club or offer to drive a carpool in your neighborhood. Every school is unique and will have different needs, but the common thread is that the school should be a place where students are safe, supported and engaged in classroom instruction.

As a parent, I know how disruptive it is to our family schedule when one my kids misses a day or two of school and the work that goes into getting back to our routine. As a state, we want all Ohio students to be ready for success when they graduate from our schools. With data, we can understand some of the factors that can be hurdles for that goal. Chronic absence is one of those hurdles. We are looking closely at the data to better understand how many students are chronically absent, why they are chronically absent and what we can do to get them back in class.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

Leave a Comment
11/18/2016

Connecting Dots: Standards, Tests and Preparing Students for Success

By: Chris Woolard

When I talk to my family and friends about the work we do at the Ohio Department of Education, it usually only takes a few minutes for their eyes to glaze over. And while I believe that technical conversation about curriculum, standards, assessments and results is important, that conversation doesn’t always capture the reality of what is happening in schools and what it means for our kids. That is why it is so important to think through some practical examples and how the system builds toward students’ future success.

As I did in my previous blog post, I find it helpful to think of this through my role as a parent. So in non-technical terms…what is all this stuff parents are hearing about? Standards are the things that my kids need to know and be able to do, and these things are important to their future success. The curriculum is the way a school chooses to teach that important information and is selected by teachers, schools and districts — not the state. Schools in different parts of the state may choose to teach this information in different ways. State tests are an important marker in gauging how well students are learning this info. School and district report cards give parents and communities information on how well schools are doing. And all these pieces build on each other.

So, let’s look at some real examples…

Ohio's Learning Standards are essentially statements of important things that we think that all Ohio students should know and be able to do. There are some really important things that 4th graders need to know. The fourth grade math standards have a focus on measurement and data. Some of the specific standards include:

Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

This includes:
  1. Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.
  2. Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit
  3. Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems. For example, find the width of a rectangular room given the area of the flooring and the length, by viewing the area formula as a multiplication equation with an unknown factor.

So in fourth grade, students should know the various measurement units and be able to apply them — this is an important real-world skill. Many schools are now implementing standards-based report cards that give parents feedback on how well students are progressing on these standards.

Then at the end of fourth grade, students take Ohio’s State Tests, which examine how well fourth graders can demonstrate knowledge of those standards. Here is an example from the spring 2016 fourth grade test:

In that example, students are demonstrating their knowledge of these measurement units.

But that is not the end of the story, the system builds on these concepts as students progress through their school years. In seventh grade, middle schoolers are performing more complex calculations. In this example from the spring 2016 seventh grade test, students are asked to apply knowledge of measurement to a circle:

As students continue to progress, the standards help them prepare for life after high school. All students will be taking the ACT (and/or the SAT), and many will be moving on to college. Here is a practice question from the ACT:

Remember that standard from fourth grade where students must “Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real-world and mathematical problems”? Here they are, demonstrating that exact same knowledge on the ACT.

The skills and knowledge that students gain early in their school lives builds and prepares them for success. Standards-based report cards give feedback on progress along the way. The state gives school report cards that let parents and communities know how well schools and districts are doing with these important content standards. So for example, the community can see how well students are doing on those fourth grade standards such as working with units of measurement of distance, weight and time. In this example, the school is meeting expectations in fourth grade math:

My middle child is now in fifth grade, but he worked on those important skills last year and I am glad he did. He is going to need them.

Sometimes, discussion of education policy is technical, but education is really personal. It is about our kids and making sure they are ready for the future. Visit these links for more information on Ohio’s Learning Standards, assessments and report cards.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

Leave a Comment
5/17/2017

Get 2 School. You Can Make It! – Cleveland Addresses Chronic Absenteeism

By: Chris Woolard

Get-2-School.jpgIt is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.  

“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.

Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.

A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.

As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.

The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.

To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

Leave a Comment
9/19/2017

How Stakeholders Impacted Ohio’s ESSA Application

By: Chris Woolard

Recently, the State Board of Education unanimously approved Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated plan application and the Ohio Department of Education submitted it to the U.S. Department of Education. It will have four months to review, comment and possibly ask for additional information. Many observers had thought that the feds would take a hands-off approach to state applications, but early indications suggest that is not the case. Based on feedback that other states have received, the federal peer review process has been technical and critical, and reviewers have been stringently interpreting the ESSA law.

It is important to point out that the ESSA application is a technical document, with several prescriptive and complicated technical requirements. The ESSA “state consolidated plan” is the application that all states must complete in order to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars in education support. The vast majority of this money is then sent to schools and districts, with a focus on supporting disadvantaged students, activities such as English language arts and math supports, after-school programs, teacher professional development, additional resources for homeless students and a host of other programs. At its heart, ESSA is a bill about equity that truly embraces ensuring success for “every student.” Once approved by the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio is tasked with implementing the technical requirements of the federal law.

It has been more than 18 months since Congress passed the law, and now that Ohio submitted our plan, it is a good time to reflect on how stakeholders played a major role in contributing to Ohio’s ESSA submission.

Ohio originally planned to submit our application for the first deadline in April 2017 and hosted a plethora of statewide stakeholder opportunities. After 10 regional meetings with 1,500 participants, 11 webinars with 3,100 participants, an online survey that received 11,200 responses and the initial posting of the draft, stakeholders asked for more time to dig into discussion on the draft. In response to this request, Ohio delayed its submission and conducted a thorough review of the draft with the State Board of Education and major education associations.

After the first draft of the application was published, stakeholders expressed concerns about many issues that were not addressed in the draft template. Many of the high-level concerns that were expressed were issues that are not specifically required to be addressed in the ESSA template. For example, stakeholders were very clear that testing concerns were on the mind of educators. Since then, the state superintendent convened an advisory group to make recommendations, and the General Assembly has removed the requirement for the fourth and sixth grade social studies tests. Likewise, many educators expressed concerns about the educator evaluation system. ESSA removed the requirement for teacher evaluations linked to student growth, so it is now a state decision on how to define effective teaching. The Educator Standards Board was convened and made a series of recommendations to improve the evaluation system. Both the testing and evaluation system concerns were brought to the Department’s attention — however, neither were directly related to the ESSA application. Stakeholders have since provided, and will continue to provide, major input on these issues that are Ohio policies — not ESSA policies. The work continues, even though it is not directly reflected in the ESSA application.

Outside of these larger issues, stakeholders played a major role in developing the technical details of the ESSA plan. Stakeholders don’t agree on all issues, and on many topics, the Department received competing feedback on all sides of a related issue. The Department’s role was to synthesize the feedback received, align it with Ohio-built policies that are already in law and build a plan that meets the federal requirements.

There were several ESSA flexibilities that stakeholders strongly supported. For example, ESSA provides flexibility for advanced eighth grade students who are taking algebra I in middle school to take the corresponding algebra I test rather than also taking the eighth grade test — thus double testing. Ohio has been a national leader in this based on a previous waiver, and nearly one-third of eighth graders are enrolled in algebra I. Not only that, Ohio previously received an expanded waiver to allow this same flexibility with other end-of-course exams (English language arts I, biology, etc.). This represents a major reduction in the number of tests taken, and Ohio is proposing to continue with this policy.

Many stakeholders have expressed concerns that school report cards are too focused only on state test results. While ESSA continues to have rigid requirements on using information from state tests to ensure that all students are succeeding, it does provide additional flexibilities that paint a larger picture about what is happening in schools. Ohio is proposing using chronic absenteeism (some districts already are doing great work) as the ESSA-required measure of school quality and student success, while piloting school climate surveys and other measures that may be included on future report cards when technically feasible and data are available. Many school administrators asked for the opportunity to share more about the good things happening across their districts in a structured way through the report cards. Several districts have quality profiles that describe accomplishments and other important details (see example). Ohio is addressing this feedback and, in fact, will include links on the upcoming report cards for district profiles and narratives.

Another major change in ESSA is the federal government walking away from prescriptive models on how to improve our most struggling schools. Instead, districts and schools will have much more discretion in designing local, evidence-based improvement plans based on the needs of their students. During the feedback process, stakeholders asked for more information and details on this process to ensure their ability to have local plans and produce locally driven evidence of strategies. Additionally, the Department has committed to developing a local engagement toolkit to assist schools and districts in collaborating with their communities to determine priorities for Title funds and setting goals for continuous improvement.

These are just a few examples, but throughout the ESSA template, there are areas where stakeholders directly impacted the application, including phasing in the N-size adjustment, using parent surveys to improve the report cards, focusing on connecting 21st century grants to local school improvement processes, exempting English learners from accountability measures during their first two years, exploring military readiness as a college and career readiness measure, updating and refining several report card measures (Value-Added, Gap Closing, high school indicators), and providing support for disadvantaged students to participate in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement courses.

The Department is encouraged by the thousands of Ohioans who dedicated their time and expertise to improving our plan for supporting districts, schools and students across the Buckeye state. So…a giant THANK YOU to all the educators and stakeholders who have provided feedback in this process. The process doesn’t end here though. The main work of ESSA occurs with the development and implementation of local improvement plans. Stakeholder engagement also will be a crucial element of those local plans.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

Leave a Comment

Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM