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Last modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CEEP policy brief recommends Indiana schools prepare for coming change to student count

July 10, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- While still more than a school year away from full implementation, the looming change in the way Indiana tabulates student enrollment means schools should begin preparing now, according to the latest policy brief from the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University. Different student enrollment count mechanisms used in other states are outlined in "Student Count Mechanisms for Funding Purposes" to consider possible implications for Indiana.

Legislation passed during the 2012 Indiana General Assembly changes Indiana's student count mechanism from a single-date count, which Indiana has referred to as an "average daily membership" or ADM count, typically performed on the second Friday after Labor Day each September. Starting in February, schools will have to perform a second count that will then be compared to the fall count to determine school district funding.

Terry Spradlin

Photo by Kip May

Terry Spradlin

Print-Quality Photo

"It really could have some significant ramifications and long-term impact on school districts," said Terry Spradlin, director for education policy at CEEP and a report co-author.

The report examines the student enrollment count mechanisms for 44 states that responded to a CEEP survey that collected such information to gauge the potential effect from changing Indiana's single-day snapshot method. As of January, 10 states (including Indiana) still used a single count date and nine used multiple count dates. The largest number of states, 14, uses an average daily membership mechanism, compiling an average of students enrolled during all or most of the school year, including absent students. Seven states conduct average daily attendance counts, averaging daily count numbers, excluding absent students. Three states use a single count period mechanism, averaging a daily count during a designated period, while only Florida uses the multiple count period, averaging a multiple daily count from two or more periods during the school year.

Spradlin said the change in Indiana's count mechanism will make the count closer to the reality of student enrollment fluctuations that school districts experience.

"Calling it an 'ADM count' has been somewhat of a misnomer," he said. "It's actually been a single count on a single day of students enrolled in Indiana."

While the proposed legislation laid out very specific changes to take place within the coming school year, since the adjustment could have a large impact on some school corporations, final determinations will come with the budget session of the Indiana General Assembly in 2013. Spradlin said school districts should monitor enrollment changes more closely during the 2012-13 school year to begin considering adjustments in budget matters because funding could fluctuate during subsequent school years.

"Schools could potentially lose money during a school year should they lose enrollment," Spradlin said. "That's not been done historically in Indiana. So districts are going to have to manage their budgets regularly, as opposed to adopting an annual budget which is pretty much static."

With funding changes during a school year, some schools might be forced to eliminate staff during a school year with significant funding losses, rather than after the school year ends in May or June.

A potential positive impact of the change includes an incentive for schools to maintain enrollment. "So you might see a decline in expulsions, for example," Spradlin said. "You might see a decline in dropouts, or more pro-active strategies to keep students engaged and in school and work with families to keep them engaged in the learning experience."

The report concludes with three recommendations for any state considering or implementing a switch to a multiple count mechanism:

  • States should consider the implementation timeline carefully since there can be financial impacts when establishing additional count dates.
  • Since multiple count dates could create an incentive to inflate counts, states may need to impose periodic audits. A systematic and timely update of enrollment counts can prevent manipulation through delaying reports of out-of-state student transfers or dropouts.
  • To avoid implications for high schools with students who graduate early or mid-year, states should consider how to properly analyze count data to ensure schools are not penalized for natural student attrition patterns.

Spradlin added that Indiana schools should also analyze past enrollment to consider what effect the new count might have.

"Schools should really prepare themselves and look at historic trends of their enrollment patterns during the course of a school year to know what they might anticipate happening," he said.

The other co-authors on the report are Lindsi M. Lara and Chris Y. Wodicka, graduate research assistants at CEEP.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education.