For example, on the Maryland School Assessments for math last year, there was a 23 percentage point performance gap between city students who were chronically absent and those who weren't, according to data compiled by the school system.

Chronically absent students also were found to be less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to drop out, school officials have said.

To determine whether a student is "at-risk" of missing more than 20 days of school, the district studied attendance patterns.

Gittings questioned the use of that data for PIPs, saying it could dramatically inflate what absentee rates end up being at the end of the year. Principals are usually evaluated on their actual year-end chronic absentee rates, rather than how many students could hypothetically miss 20 or more days. In other words, he said, principals feel they are begin punished for something that hasn't happened.

Gittings said he met with Edwards and suggested other ways to address the problem.

He said he negotiated with Edwards to reduce the number of principals placed on PIPs from 91 to 61, but he still plans to go before the city school board to protest the action.

He said a PIP "only destroys the morale of our administrators" and can be used to issue unsatisfactory evaluations and prevent principals from receiving pay increases at the end of the year.

Edwards denied any effort to avoid approving pay raises and said PIPs are meant to formalize a commitment by a principal and supervisor to fix specified issues. She said they also establish responsibility of the principals' supervisors to support and monitor their progress.

For principals to come off the PIPs at the end of the year, they must meet two of three requirements: increase the rate of submitting attendance records, create a plan to reduce the percentage of students considered at-risk for chronic absenteeism and reduce the at-risk rate by 1 percentage point.

Gittings said he worries administrators will be forced to place other staff, including teachers, social workers and staff responsible for attendance, on PIPs.

"Their jobs are hard enough providing quality education for our students," he said. "Now management wants them to take on responsibility of being mother and father."