by Andrea Stacy
In the fall of 2017, ImpactTulsa partnered with Tulsa Public Schools to address one of the early indicators of student success, attendance. We have spent the past year encouraging students to “Be Here to Get There”! By creating and using a predictive model for chronic absenteeism, together we helped school leaders determine who is at risk of becoming chronically absent with 86% accuracy by the 20th day of school. ImpactTulsa has worked alongside principals, attendance teams, and school staff to put into practice nationally researched strategies brought to Tulsa by Hedy Chang with Attendance Works. We explored how to bring the conversation of attendance into parent-teacher conferences, form attendance teams, use data to inform tiered decisions, utilize success mentors, and address a variety of health-related needs of chronically absent students. Furthermore, ImpactTulsa worked closely with 2 pilot schools to better understand the root causes of absenteeism at their sites.
We know attendance matters. We know when a school leader makes attendance a school-wide priority, aggressively supports student needs, intentionally fosters relationships with students and families and proactively uses data to create tiered strategies then this is when schools are able to make great gains to improve student attendance. One pilot school used data to anticipate attendance dips and created student incentives and targeted messaging that made kids WANT to come to school on the day before Thanksgiving. As a result they saw an increase of 7% in student attendance compared to this time last year. Additionally, due to a combination of targeted strategies, they’ve seen a decrease of 4% in chronic absenteeism. The activities that are easy to implement led to the increase at this school and can be replicated throughout our city. Let’s take a look into what is happening at this school.
Attendance Team: The incentives and creative ideas to support students at this school stemmed from an attendance team that meets weekly. The attendance team dives deeper into the root cause of chronic absenteeism specific to their school. They focus on 3 tiers of strategies: Tier 1 is school-wide, Tier 2 students are on the cusp of chronic absenteeism while Tier 3 students are severely chronic. They know that they cannot teach kids if they aren’t at school. The attendance team has integrated many new practices into their routine to help support students and families. They know that attendance is an indicator of engaged students and only with engaged students may we improve academic outcomes.
Messaging: The school has been anticipating when attendance dips occur and have increased their communication with parents. One strategy is a school-wide message on fliers and stickers. These messages are targeted for students, meant to generate eagerness to be at school such as their school mascot dressed up in holiday clothing telling them to be at school on the days leading up to to a holiday break.
Relationships: Having genuine and trusted relationships is key to student engagement. This school has identified a success mentor for the students who are most at-risk of chronic absenteeism, which ensures they have a unique relationship with an adult in the school. In addition, this school is leveraging relationships that already exist with partners who are invested in the school, such as Reading Partners, to have conversations with students about their attendance. Another strategy is the principal going “live” on Facebook over breaks from school to tell the students they are missed and the school is excited to see them back on the first day after a break. Strategically layering the live videos with a “secret word” that they can report back to the principal in exchange for a prize, such as a free dress day pass, makes it exciting for a student to return to school after a break when schools tend to have lower attendance percentages.
Incentives: . The school has incentivized students in a variety of ways to celebrate attendance. For the days when attendance historically dips, student names were placed in a randomizer and drawn at the end of day for prizes such as sports toys and board games. Students are also recognized for good attendance, perfect attendance and, most importantly, improved attendance; this spans across a variety of grades and time increments. Students are also becoming a part of the solution and are allowed to text the missing students, encouraging them to come to school. Communicating with students and families through a variety of media and creating a culture that, “you are missed” when you are not at school is imperative to making attendance gains.
It is impossible to create solutions without first knowing the problem and tracking its improvement. ImpactTulsa’s goal is to better understand the root causes of attendance issues and support our school leaders so that they may mitigate those issues for each student. We recognize that every data point we measure is a student and, student and family needs can be complex. Improving attendance for one child may not look the same as it does for another. Many factors are at play: transportation, health, weather and many more. As we continue to track improvement to identify more bright spots in this work, we commit to sharing and scaling these best practices back to the community.