A school district “fill rate” means the percentage of covered versus uncovered teacher absences, by day, week, month, and year. High fill rates can only be achieved by having a robust substitute pool sufficient to cover not only absences due to illness, but professional development days as well. Fill rates vary from state-to-state, and even site-by-site within a single school district.
Fill rates, even site-by site, are often influenced by not only the size of the active substitute pool, but by the way substitutes are trained and how they are treated by students, teachers, and administrative staff.
The Impact Of Low Fill Rates
School districts with the highest state assessment and nationwide standardized testing scores, experience the highest percentage fill rates in the mid-to-high 90s. Conversely, school districts that underperform tend to have fill rates in the 60s to mid-80s.
Standardized testing scores and state student assessment testing, directly correlate to the school site’s fill rate. In California, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Encinitas, and Cardiff school districts have an approximately 97% fill rate, and consistently out-perform other California schools that have lower fill rates.
This relationship holds true nation-wide. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, two elementary schoolsin the same district, just 5 miles apart are perfect examples of the parallels between fill rates and student academic achievement. Marvine Elementary in Bethlehem, PA, has the lowest fill rate in the district this year, at 61%. School assessment testing revealed that 45% of their students tested “below basic”. Meanwhile, a short drive away from Marvine Elementary, is Hanover Elementary, with a 94% fill rate, and its students achieved the highest possible scores in the district.
On Teachers and District Staff
Teachers also suffer when a school has a low fill rate. Professional development is crucial to keeping educators up to date on the latest programs, teaching methods, and training in order to meet the requirements of state standardized testing. Professional development is continuing education for teachers, and ensures that students have a top notch, well-trained, teacher in the classroom. Professional development reinvigorates teachers and serves as a morale boost to go back into the classroom and innovate. When schools have a low fill rate, that means professional development often has to be cancelled, or another teacher needs to be pulled out of their planning period or combine classrooms (thereby interrupting their own students’ learning). The impact is disastrous over time and destroys morale.
Principals are often called in to sub for one of their teachers. Principals have an enormous, multi-faceted, demanding job, and to have to put very serious responsibilities on hold to teach a class for an entire day. The Principal cannot fulfill the day-to-day tasks required of their position, that are crucial to the smooth and efficient operation of their school site.
Learning support teachers are often pulled from their students to cover a classroom. If a learning support teacher has 30 students a day, whether it’s for reading intervention, speech therapy, special education, or ESL, those 30 students are being deprived of the extra academic instruction that they require. These are students that are already behind their peers academically, and they suffer the greatest, particularly when they must miss out on their specialized instruction several times a month and throughout the school year.
A high fill rate can only be achieved by recruitment, training, and maintenance efforts throughout each school year. It cannot be overstated how crucial it is to have a high fill rate and constant supply of qualified, trained, ready-to-work substitutes. It is vital to maintain routine and continuity of quality classroom instruction by substitutes in order to set students up for academic success.