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DESE changes attendance standards due to COVID-19

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Board of Education approved a rule change to revise attendance-counting standards for the upcoming school year Tuesday. 

The rule change, which was approved during the board’s agenda meeting Tuesday, altered the policies and standards on attendance records for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to remain compliant with the state’s funding rules while also practicing social distancing and exploring alternative learning options.

The rule change included an emergency clause allowing the rule to apply for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The rule change will allow schools to report attendance for online classes as well as blended schedules where students come to school in shifts and learn remotely on other days. 

Under the new rule, schools will have to submit Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) Plans to DESE for approval and will then be able to report in-seat, blended, and remote learning attendance. Schools will be required to report attendance numbers at the end of the year.

The board also discussed spring testing in relation to attendance data and how to assess student success in different ways of learning.

“We’ve had discussions about what data we can feasibly collect that would give us some indication on how students have grown,” said Chris Neal, a member of the Office of Public Schools. “One of the big goals of formative assessments is to be able to have some notion about how students grew, and we want to be able to provide that data for background information to see what different students experienced. Districts and charters will monitor differently, but we’re seeing what we can do at the state level as well.”

“This is new territory,” Board President Charles Shields said. “We have a state system that is highly reliant on local control, and I would hope that we can put guidance out to local schools on priorities and how to measure the effectiveness of some of these programs. We’ll know more as time goes on, but I think it will be a challenge.”

The board also approved a waiver related to attendance awards for the upcoming school year. The waiver suspends attendance programs for the 2021 school year to encourage students who feel ill to remain home and avoid causing pressure to achieve high attendance rates when it may not be safe.

The change also waived part of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) that promotes high attendance expectations for school districts.

Additionally, the board approved the appointment of Ronald L. Roberts to the Joint Executive Governing Board for the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven joined Gov. Mike Parson in Washington, D.C. for a panel on the safe reopening schools on Tuesday afternoon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.