Placeholder - School and computers

As attendance grows in importance among schools, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is making a change in the way it calculates student attendance for the purposes of accreditation.

The change will reward school districts for their efforts to improve attendance by awarding them partial credit for students near the state’s attendance benchmark of 90 percent. As a result, districts across the state, including the St. Joseph School District, should see their official attendance rates rise.

“Ninety is and will always be the goal. There’s just lots of good work happening. Teachers and counselors and principals are working hard with students, some of which have some difficult circumstances and their attendance isn’t good,” said Kevin Freeman, director of the Missouri School Improvement Program for DESE.

The effort to enact the change was led by Missouri school districts that are intent on improving their attendance but are still in the process working toward the state standard, according to Freeman.

The changes will appear for the first time later this year when DESE releases its annual school district accreditation reports, officially known as the Annual Progress Report or APR.

APRs are primarily a measure of a district’s performance on the state’s most recent round of standardized tests and serve as the document to determine whether districts earn accreditation. Among other factors, the district’s performance in terms of attendance also factors into the report.

Previously, the state only counted students whose attendance was at the 90 percent mark or higher toward a district’s attendance score.

With the change, districts will receive partial credit for students whose attendance rates land between 85 and 90 percent.

“It’s just a way to recognize buildings and districts for the hard work they are doing with some kids who have the worst attendance,” Freeman said.

In testing the changes, Freeman said the result for as many as 150 school districts appears to be an increase in district attendance rates between 1.5 and 2 percent. No districts suffered negative effects by the change in testing the new equation.

“I think it is really an important step the state has taken to really help districts receive some credit for improving sometimes a very difficult metric to improve on,” said Dr. Kendra Lau, director of assessment for the St. Joseph School District.

While the increases in overall attendance projected by the state have been replicated in the St. Joseph School District’s test calculations, Lau said the district’s goal to improve student attendance remains the same.

“Chronic absenteeism is independent of equations. That’s the main thing that we’re going to continue to look at is, at a student level, whether we assigned a point value or not, if that student is not in school, that puts them at risk for their future success,” she said.

Still, Lau said she feels the changes are positive because they better demonstrate the importance of attendance and show that student growth can be reflected in an important state document.

“The state is clearly taking a vested interest in peeling back the layers on helping folks to understand that by creating this point structure,” she said. “So it becomes more like an academic metric than its been in the past.”

For now, the St. Joseph School District is holding on whether to adjust its end-of-year attendance goal because the new calculation is likely to slightly inflate attendance numbers compared to how they have been reported.

Lau said the gains the district made last year, growing districtwide attendance from 84 percent to about 87 percent have held through the beginning of this year, though the district is off to a weaker start than hoped for.

“We’re going to continue to stress the importance of attendance through our building leaders and in the community and continue to provide incentives for students and continue to try to communicate to parents and families about the importance of having a school-going culture in St. Joseph,” Lau said.

Zach McNulty can be reached

at zach.mcnulty@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowMcNulty.