Accountability What the Research Says

More than 1 in 4 Schools Targeted for Improvement, Survey Finds

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 18, 2024 2 min read
Vector illustration of diverse children, students climbing up on a top of a stack of staggered books.
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Twenty-nine percent of public schools have made comprehensive or targeted improvement under federal and state accountability systems.

Schools must develop an improvement plan if they miss state academic, graduation rate, or other accountability goals for two years in a row. They use targeted plans if individual student groups, for example, perform in the bottom 5 percent of all students in a state in math. Schools require comprehensive improvement plans if multiple student groups fall behind, or if high schools graduate fewer than 67 percent of their students from high school after four years.

These are the first school improvement plan findings from the National Center for Education Statistics’ School Pulse Panel, a bimonthly survey on how schools have responded to and recovered from pandemic disruptions. The current data come from a nationally representative group of more than 1,500 schools from every state and Washington, D.C., who were surveyed in November.

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The new data also show that schools focus most often on changing their reading and math curriculums in their improvement plans. Less than a third prioritize teacher professional development or student engagement.

Experts worry improvement efforts will be a heavier lift as the end of federal pandemic aid for schools arrives in the next school year.

Student absenteeism also continues to be a concern for school leaders as schools work to turn around low academic achievement. Thirty-six states include chronic absenteeism (generally defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days) as an additional indicator in school accountability ratings.

The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and the non-profit group Attendance Works have found that two-thirds of public school students now attend a school with high or extreme chronic absenteeism, up from 26 percent during the 2017-18 school year.

In its survey, NCES found that while public schools overall report daily average attendance rates of 90 percent.

Fifty-two percent of schools in high-poverty communities said they are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about student absenteeism, compared to 39 percent of all public schools in the study.

Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, said focusing on daily attendance rates may give schools a false sense of security about absenteeism.

“Average daily attendance really answers the question how many kids typically show up each day,” she said. “It doesn’t tell you how many and which kids are missing so much school they might be academically at risk. With 90 percent average daily attendance, you could be having a 30 or 40 percent chronic absenteeism easily.”


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