Improving attendance by improving school conditions

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Attendance Works have released a new report, Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning, which describes how data on chronic absence, defined as a pupil missing 10 or more days of school, can be a tool to warn administrators that pupils are not getting the support they need. The first half of the report describes four school characteristics that promote attendance — physical and emotional health and safety; belonging, connectedness and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adult and pupil social and emotional competence — and how they relate to attendance. The second half of the report describes how chronic attendance data can be used to diagnose weaknesses in learning conditions and presents specific steps that schools can take to promote better conditions.

Source: Using chronic absence data to improve conditions for learning (September 2019), Attendance Works and American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Using data to combat chronic absence

Chronic absenteeism (CA) has been broadly defined as missing so much school that a student is academically at risk. More specifically, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has defined it as missing 15 days or more for any reason. Hedy Chang at Attendance Works and Robert Balfanz at The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University recently examined the first-ever national data on chronic absenteeism released by the OCR, as well as data from the US Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics. Their goal was to determine if there were commonalities in patterns of chronic absenteeism, and if so, what possible solutions might be suggested based on these patterns.

The resulting research brief shows that CA is concentrated. Half of America’s chronically absent students can be found in just 4% of its districts and 12% of its schools. Where there are significant concentrations of poverty, there are significant amounts of absenteeism, regardless of whether the concentrations of poverty are in rural, urban, or suburban areas. The places with the largest numbers of chronically absent students usually have more than one generation of people living in poverty and a high African-American population.

The brief discusses how several districts successfully reduced chronic absenteeism by solving barriers to school attendance including unsafe walks to school, unreliable transportation, health issues like asthma, and making the schools welcoming and safe environments. A common pattern in the districts’ successes was that they all had access to data detailing their schools’ chronic absences. The authors make several recommendations to ensure that districts, schools, and families have the chronic-absence data they need. These recommendations include:

  • Examine what schools with low chronic absenteeism rates, despite facing challenges that can be a barrier to school attendance, are doing to overcome those barriers.
  • Use data to find indicators that a student is prone to CA. One such indicator is if a student missed more than 10% of the prior school year and two days in the first month of the current school year. Parents and school staff should be alerted.
  • When students are determined to be CA, it is important to find out why. Solving these problems is often most effective using teams of leaders who meet regularly and have the resources to solve the problems.

Source: Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence, Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center