Tracking of Nevada County truancy data inadequate
March 7, 2014
Union Hill Elementary School District Superintendent Susan Barry was shocked to learn that her students had the highest truancy rate in Nevada County, according to the California Department of Education.
The listed truancy rate for Union Hill was 78 percent during the 2011/12 school year. But according to Barry, the district's real truancy rate for that period was only 13.9 percent.
If Barry's numbers are accurate, and a spokesperson for the state department of education says they probably are, then the state's data is off by a margin of more than 64 percent.
But the impacts of that error are murky — and that's probably why Barry didn't know about the discrepancy until it was brought to her attention.
"We have not felt any repercussions from it at this point," she said. "There was no red flag in the system to alert us. I found that to be very interesting."
A spokesperson for the California Department of Education says the department strongly encourages districts to analyze their truancy rates on an annual basis to identify problems and create plans for addressing them. This data can also influence policy on a county, state and federal level.
But locally, it does not affect school funding.
An abnormally high truancy rate is also unlikely to have an adverse affect on a school's eligibility for grant funding or participation in any state or federal programs. In some cases, it could even demonstrate need, helping schools compete for grants designed to address issues associated with truancy and school climate.
The state lists Twin Ridges Elementary School District's truancy rate at 58 percent for the 2011/12 school year. It may be the highest truancy rate in Nevada County. But unlike Union Hill, Twin Ridges is not in a position to contest the state's numbers.
"The district never calculates the truancy rate," wrote Twin Ridges business official Mary Toscani in response to a public records request filed by The Union. "We do not have the manpower to do this nor the ability to know how to calculate it."
It's a small district with just over 100 students. Teachers take attendance, that data is entered and uploaded into the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, and then it essentially disappears.
There's a brief window for districts to dispute their truancy rates, but after that period ends, the state's reports can no longer be revised.
Twin Ridges Superintendent James Berardi was not overly concerned with his district's No. 1 ranking.
"I agree that (58 percent) looks like a high number, but by definition, I would think everyone else's should be higher," Berardi said. "If you had a kid that missed two days of school because his parent took a long weekend, and they were tardy 30 minutes or more one time, they're a truant."
Berardi also points out that in a district as small as Twin Ridges, normal factors like the flu can have an abnormally significant impact on attendance.
But if school districts are not tracking their truancy rates, and the state is not using local truancy rates to determine funding, why expend limited resources tracking this information, especially if it may not be accurate?
It's a legal requirement, according to the state.
"The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires state education agencies such as the CDE to collect truancy data and calculate the rate," writes Tina Woo Jung, an information officer with the department of education's communications division.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, call 530-477-4230 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.