Last week, we hosted our second Chronic Absence Working Session. The convening brought together more than 40 people representing 21 different schools and organizations. The slides from the session are available here. In the interest of time, we were only able to get through slide 15, however, we plan to follow up specifically on the power of Empathy Interviews soon.
Early intervention can be helpful in reducing chronic absenteesim and promoting attendance. To this end, school team’s began the session by looking at their attendance data from the first weeks of school. With this data in hand, school teams reflected on the touchpoints they have in place for the students that have been absent.
Next we discussed how “nudging” families can be a relatively low-cost,impactful whole-school strategy for reducing absences. Each school team then spent time planning how they can better “nudge” families to help improve attendance.
Feedback from the session was very positive so please stay tuned as we determine when we maybe be able to host another session.
It’s hard to believe it’s already back to school season – where did the summer go? As thousands of kids return to school, or in my daughter’s case enter school for the first time, I’d like highlight the importance of attendance.
It turns out that showing up to school helps kids learn. Shocking, I know right. Of course, we can’t expect every kid to earn that perfect attendance award. As a parent of a three-year old and five-year old, I’m well aware that kids get sick, oh so very sick.
For California, chronic absence is kind of a big issue. Specifically, 11 percent of kids in California were chronically absent during the 2017-18 school year (data for the 2018-19 school year is not yet publicly available). For context, that’s about 700,000 students, or more than the total population of Wyoming or Vermont. For California’s African-American kids, the percentage was nearly twice as high at 20 percent.
The story in Oakland is even bleaker. In the 2018-18 school year, the overall chronic absence rate was 16 percent and for African-American students it was 25 percent. In other words, 1 out every 4 African-American kids in Oakland missed at least 10% of school days. Wait, what? I can’t believe I just typed that sentenced. And these kids aren’t just missing time to learn, but our schools are losing out on much needed funding.
The good news is that there are Oakland schools doing great work to reduce chronic absence and improve overall attendance. In the Spring, I chatted with school leaders at Lazear Charter Academy (TK-8), LIFE Academy (6-12), and Roosevelt Middle School (6-8) to learn how each school is working to reduce chronic absence. Here is what I learned.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: It was not surprising to learn that all these schools have a dedicated team with a regular meeting schedule to support student attendance. It is almost too obvious that the more teachers and staff members who know what is going on, the more students and families can get support and issues can get addressed. The composition of the teams and the meeting frequently differs slightly across the schools, but each team has a consistent team with a regular schedule.
Data Driven: For all three schools, individual student data serves as the foundation for all attendance meetings. In particular, they pay specific attention to: students who are currently chronic absent and, students who are on the verge of becoming chronically absent. Looking at students who are close but not yet chronically absent is critical. It will be harder to help students catch up if they have already crossed that chronic absence threshold. An eye to prevention can go a long way.
Engaging Families is Key: All three schools stress the importance of one-on-one communication with families from a person who has a strong relationship with the student. One of the school leaders described the ideal communicator as a “warm demander” or someone who can hold meaningful relationships with families and at the same time hold them to high expectations. I am sure that you can think of someone in your life who can play this role. Sometimes we all need a watchful eye to help us do what we know we need to.
Celebrating Success: Positive reinforcement is a key lever for attendance. Each school has a public process for acknowledging kids that are meeting attendance expectations. Celebrations do not always have to focus on perfect attendance. It is also important to highlight kids that have improved their attendance. Recognizing effort when it comes to attendance is key – we need to show students and families that we see their work and improvement.
One week ago, we hosted a Chronic Absence Working Session for that brought together 37 people from 16 different schools and organizations across Oakland. The slides from the session are available here. As a reminder, a student is considered chronically absent if they are absent (excused or unexcused) for 10% or more of the days for which they are enrolled. So for a typical 180 day school calendar, a student would need to miss at least 18 days (or about 3 1/2 weeks) of school in order to be considered chronically absent.
One of the focuses of the working session was for each school to create a group of current students that are just above or just below the chronically absent threshold. It’s likely that combination of tier-1 (whole-school) and tier-2 (targeted) attendance strategies (see image below) can be used to help improve attendance next year for this group of students. A sample data spreadsheet for identifying an attendance intervention group is available here.
As a next step, we would encourage all school teams to review qualitative data to better understand their quantitative attendance data. One particularly useful method for obtaining qualitative attendance data is conducting empathy interviews with students and families to learn more about attendance patterns. An empathy interview is an open-ended interview structure that allows you to get a deeper understanding of why a student may be absent. You need not interview every student – even a handful of interviews can provide valuable information.
After analyzing data, school teams brainstormed potential tier-1 and tier-2 strategies to employ at their school based on the following categories: A) Engaging Students and Families, B) Recognizing Good and Improved Attendance, C) Monitoring and Attendance Data and Practice, and D) Providing Personalized Early Outreach. The results of the brainstorming session are available here.
The next Chronic Absence Working Session will take place on Thursday, 9/12/19. You can RSVP here: bit.ly/oakcore091219. In the meantime, please make sure to check out Attendance Works for more resources related to attendance. You can check out his page to learn about past and future webinars related to attendance.