RIDE Education Specialist
“80 percent of success is showing up.” ~Woody Allen
Showing up isn't everything, and it might not even be 80 percent of success, but it is important for both students and teachers. All students deserve access to excellent teachers and administrators, but access is dependent on the student and teacher both being present, engaged, and working together.
Chronic student absenteeism is a primary cause of lower academic achievement and is predictor of dropping out. Students with lower attendance rates may feel alienated from classmates and teachers, may have more negative interactions, and may be socially disengaged upon returning to school. Low student attendance is also correlated with other risky behaviors, such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. In addition, frequent absences may also impact the achievement of other students in the classroom. Given the importance of student attendance, RIDE and the U.S. Department of Education have been committed to collecting data on student absenteeism and providing initiatives and supports, such as Every Student, Every Day, to encourage attendance.
Equally important is teacher attendance. We know there is no single greater school-related influence on the achievement of a student than his or her teacher. If a student is absent, his or her absence might only affect one person; if a teacher is absent, between 25 and 100 students are affected.
Multiple studies document the potential negative impacts to students, including reduced possible days of instruction, reduced student learning, and reduced student achievement. Despite their best efforts, substitute teachers may try to provide instruction, but too often, those educators do not have the same knowledge of students, content knowledge, or teaching expertise to provide the same level of instruction as the full-time teacher.
So how prevalent is teacher absenteeism in Rhode Island? It’s unclear. Although multiple news articles and reports have claimed high rates of teacher absenteeism in our state, the data used in these reports contain inconsistencies across districts and are potentially inaccurate. In reality, we currently do not have accurate enough data to understand teacher attendance patterns in our state.
Given the lack of a uniform way of reporting teacher attendance, RIDE assembled a Teacher Attendance Task Force in Spring 2015. The task force, comprised of RIDE staff members, superintendents, and human resources professionals, gathered information on how districts document teacher attendance and piloted a new collection with a select number of districts. Based on the information gathered, the task force developed a new Educator Attendance Data Submission.
Beginning in 2016-17, all districts will report teacher attendance to RIDE using common data elements. This data collection will help us better understand how many teachers are absent, how often, and for what reasons. Of course life happens and teachers will occasionally need to take time off. Teachers, like the rest of us, get sick, need to take care of family members, and have personal situations that arise. However, new data can help us better understand teacher absenteeism patterns. When we see the full picture, we can really begin to support teachers.
While the prospect of new data is not always exhilarating, there are multiple reasons to be excited about the new teacher attendance collection. The new data collection will provide RIDE and districts with higher quality, more actionable data about teacher time out of the classroom and will help us better understand how teacher absenteeism and student absenteeism intersect. The field and the public will be better able to identify places where teacher attendance is high and identify the school and working conditions and culture that contribute to strong student and teacher attendance. Conversely, the field and public will also be able to identify where teacher absenteeism may be pervasive and work collaboratively to address problematic policies, school conditions, or school cultures. In addition, RIDE and districts will better be able to quantify the impact of educator absenteeism on student learning and other outcomes in Rhode Island public schools.
Every day counts for students, and we owe it to our teachers and students to better understand patterns of attendance and the teaching and learning conditions in our schools that may affect attendance. We want our students and teachers to not just show up; we want them to feel eager and ready to work together in support of student learning.