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The Learning Curve: San Diego Unified Ranks 'High' in Chronic Absenteeism

The results for California’s system of ranking schools is out for the 2017-2018 school year, and the San Diego Unified School District came in with a “high” rate of chronic absenteeism in its schools.

Central Elementary had one of the highest chronic absenteeism rates in San Diego Unified for the 2017-2018 school year. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The era of big data in education is evolving.

It began in the early 2000s with No Child Left Behind and a focus on high-stakes test scores that could shut down a school or earn its teachers bonuses. But now the old-ranking system, known as the Academic Performance Index or API, is out and a new system, known as the California School Dashboard, is in.

The new system is arguably more nuanced and holistic, but also less explicit in its ranking of schools from best to worst. This year, for the first time, the dashboard includes a ranking for how many students in a school are chronically absent, as first reported by Edsource.

San Diego Unified School District fared below average for the state. More than one in 10 students missed school 18 or more days in a year, which is the state’s definition of chronically absent. The district’s chronic absentee rate for 2017-18 remained the same as the previous year: 12.4 percent.

The state average was 11.1 percent last school year.

“We’ve had accountability for a number of years that’s been narrow,” said Carrie Hahnel interim co-director of The Education Trust – West. “We focused on the really important markers of test scores and graduation rates, but we haven’t looked at other things that effect a child’s ability to learn.”

Tracking absenteeism can tell you how warm and inviting a school is. It can tell you how much children want to be there. It also might say something about how well a school is communicating expectations to parents, Hahnel said. Like suspension data, it speaks to a school’s climate.

In San Diego Unified, some subgroups fared worse than others.

Latino students in Unified showed a higher chronic absenteeism rate than the rest of the state – 15.9 percent for Unified versus 12.1 for the state. The opposite held true for African American students in the district – 20.1 percent were chronically absent statewide versus 15.2 percent in the district.

Source: California Department of Education

The state defined chronic absenteeism as “high” for schools and districts with rates of 10 percent or more. The rate was considered “very high” for schools and districts with rates above 20 percent.

In San Diego Unified, 36 schools ranked “very high” with chronic absentee rates above 20 percent. Many of those schools are charter schools not operated by the district. Others are alternative schools, which tend to have higher rates of chronic absence. Others are traditional public schools like Lincoln High School, Emerson/Bandini Elementary and Perkins K-8.

You’ll find a super handy chart at the bottom of this page. Click between three tabs at the top to see schools with 0-10 percent, 10-20 percent and above 20 percent chronic absenteeism.

Other Data

Chronic absentee data wasn’t the only thing released by the California Department of Education this month. It also released graduation and suspension rates for 2017-18.

Kristen Taketa at the San Diego Union Tribune had good rundowns of both those stories. Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended as students overall in San Diego Unified. And foster youth were more than five times as likely to be suspended.

The state, county and San Diego Unified all basically held the line on graduation rates. All improved incrementally.

San Diego Unified once had a graduation rate above 90 percent, but it fell by several points when the federal government forced California to stop counting students who finished high school equivalency programs the same as normal graduates, as we previously reported.

Other Ed News

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