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Thinking Beyond the Test to Maintain Alabama’s Education Gains

The Alabama State Board of Education took two momentous steps forward during their November 10, 2022, meeting.

The Board approved an administrative rule code that will require students to complete at least one college or career readiness indicator prior to graduating, beginning with the class of 2028. The Board also passed a resolution enabling the State Department of Education to collect data on teacher absenteeism.

The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) was proud to lead the charge on these two policies as part of the AWC’s 10 points on K-12 education. The AWC worked alongside Governor Ivey and the Business Education Alliance of Alabama for five years on the College and Career Readiness Policy and for over two years on the teacher attendance resolution.

Dr. Mackey and the State Board of Education are to be commended for their leadership. The College and Career Readiness rule passed by a vote of 5-2 and the attendance resolution passed unanimously.

Prior to the vote on the college and career readiness policy, Governor Ivey stated, “. . . closing the gap between the graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate is about more than just numbers—this is about closing opportunity gaps by making sure that our students are ready to take the next step.”

“Since the rule does not take effect until 2028, we have plenty of time to work with local school districts to expand access to a variety of college and career readiness indicators to meet the interests of every student.”

“This is not about adding one more requirement, it is about measuring what matters. This vote will focus our attention and energy on making sure resources are where they need to be.”

“There is nothing more important we can do than graduate our students ready for the next step.  The adoption of this rule signals our commitment to this most sacred duty.”

Governor Ivey’s words are not only true but serve as a road map for implementing these new policies.

The fact that the State Board of Education amended its budget request to add a $25 million college and career readiness attainment fund, coupled with the five-year implementation timeline, will give us time to expand access to quality career readiness indicators that meet the interests of all students and prepare them for in-demand careers.

At first glance, the college and career readiness completion policy and the attendance data collection policy do not seem connected.

When we consider teacher chronic absenteeism—defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school days during a single school year—is linked to student college and career readiness, the connection becomes obvious.

When a teacher is absent, students do not receive the same level of instruction that they are accustomed to receiving.

Why measure teacher absenteeism?  Because a student’s leader in the classroom is the teacher.  If leaders are not held accountable to high standards, then it is useless to try and hold students to the same high standard.  The federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reported that 37 percent of Alabama’s teachers were chronically absent during the 2017-2018 school year; however, OCR stopped reporting these data the following year.  We currently do not know if teacher absenteeism has remained high since the 2017-2018 school year because Alabama has not been collecting the data necessary to make that determination.

Since the 2017-2018 school year, the Legislature passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Allen Baker’s that allows teachers to roll over unused sick days. Prior to that legislation, teachers may have inadvertently contributed to the chronic absenteeism rate as reported by the OCR due to the fact that they had to use their unused sick days or lose them

The lack of available data is the reason why the AWC and Governor Ivey wanted to work with Dr. Mackey and the State Board of Education to pass the teacher attendance data resolution.

The new policy will create an additional burden on our teachers and schools.  Local school districts already have the necessary data; it just needs to be tracked.

The resolution is not about singling out teachers. People must miss work for a variety of legitimate reasons, and teachers have fought hard over the years to earn the paid leave they have available. Nevertheless, data is needed to help us understand the comprehensive effects of student and teacher absenteeism on student achievement.

If a student is absent 18 days (10 percent of the 180-day school year) and their teacher is absent 18 days, that is potentially 36 days of missed instruction, which equals 20 percent of the school year.

Given all the other disruptions during the school day (i.e., assemblies, pep rallies, student organization meetings, etc.), is it unacceptable that students are potentially missing 1 in 5 days of instruction due to the collective effects of chronic absenteeism?

Once we collect the data, we can dig deeper and begin to unpack the reasons leading to student and teacher chronic absenteeism.  For example, how do school culture and climate affect attendance? How do building and district leadership impact attendance?

As we are celebrating increased scores on the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP). Alabama moved substantially up in the National Assessment of Education Program rankings primarily because Alabama students returned to school faster during Covid than other states.  . However, once the rest of the country gets back to the classrooms we could fall back in the rankings once more.  We must continue to measure performance and improve in the areas where we are weakest.    Getting to the bottom of chronic absenteeism is one way to do so.  We need to measure our performance and determine the root causes of chronic absenteeism to make improvements.

Measurement of performance goes hand in hand with leadership. Effective leaders constantly analyze data to make better decisions to improve performance.  Leadership matters.

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