Using Data to Create Healthier Schools

July 01, 2015

Data and analysis can provide great insight into important issues — including health and wellness in schools — but the quality of the data used in these analyses can make a huge difference. That’s where the D.C.-based Data Quality Campaign (DQC) comes in.

DQC works with organizations, including Healthy Schools Campaign, to ensure analyses are being done with quality data. DQC has been a key partner for our work with our National Collaborative on Education and Health, most recently on the issue of chronic absenteeism. Looking at health and wellness metrics is a relatively new area for DQC, says Brennan McMahon Parton, associate director of state policy and advocacy, and partnering with HSC was a “natural fit.”

HSC and DQC co-convened a meeting in August 2014 about health metrics, including chronic absenteeism. “Chronic absence is a proxy indicator for some of the other things going on in kids lives,” says Parton. “I love the idea of this data element with a clear definition that’s gaining momentum among politicians. The win there is possible.”

HSC and DQC aren’t the only ones that see the importance of chronic absenteeism. Across the country, many states have introduced legislation that use chronic absenteeism data to inform programs that keep kids in schools. The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights began collecting chronic absenteeism data for the first time and will report on it in the spring of 2016. Even in the current draft of Elementary Secondary Education Act reauthorization, chronic absenteeism is included as an indicator for the first time. People are starting to realize the importance of tracking this important data point so we can better support our students.

Although the definition of chronic absenteeism varies state to state, many states are beginning to report chronic absenteeism rates at some level. Our challenge now is to make sure this data is useful and actionable and translates into programs that help keep kids in school.

“So often when we talk about data, people talk about reducing kids to numbers,” Parton says. But DQC aims to empower schools and communities with good data and to use that data to impact the everyday lives of our children. In the case of chronic absenteeism, it’s really easy to make the link that students are better learners when they’re present in classrooms.

DQC doesn’t focus on the granular level of analyzing the data, rather they focus on high-level, best practices. “We’re trying to help people understand that this isn’t about collecting your kid’s heart rate,” Parton says. “It’s about supporting kids and educators in that whole set of inputs and outcomes.”

We look forward to continuing to work with DQC on the important issue of chronic absenteeism.