Thetford Academy (2018)

Thetford, VT

Closing the Gap

Upon exploring the data from the 2015-2016 school year, it became evident that a major gap existed in the attendance rates between our general population of students and our students on special education plans (IEPs and 504s). At Thetford Academy, we consider 6 absences to be a concerning attendance threshold each semester. In 2015, the percentage of all students who reached 6+ absences in either semester was 35%. In the Special Education population, that percentage was 47%. Therefore, we framed one of our goals around decreasing the instances of absences in our population of students with Special Education plans.

We chose three interventions to address this gap: Discussing attendance concerns on a case-by-case basis at our weekly student support team meeting and developing individualized interventions for students of concern; attending IEP/504 meetings to discuss attendance concerns, barriers, and strategies for overcoming obstacles; and delivering a small group on academic success skills to help students become more confident in their academics and hopefully alleviate academic anxiety around attending school (BSMS:6, 7). While this last small-group intervention was not exclusively delivered to Special Education students, 8 of the 9 who participated were students on plans.

The interventions were chosen because we recognized that among our Special Education population, barriers to attendance vary widely. Some are due to student mental health issues, others to issues of family dynamics (i.e. family mental health, substance use, transportation issues, etc). We felt that keeping some of our interventions individualized would give us the freedom to address our students’ unique needs. Addressing concerns at weekly SST meetings gave us the benefit of leveraging many student support players in the school -- including the school nurse, Dean of Students, Director of Special Education, and our SAP, in addition to our two counselors. In this way, we could tap into people who had strong relationships with different families, and address various barriers from the most appropriate perspective. Please see the "Type of Activities" section below. Attending individual student’s IEP meetings is not required for school counselors, but we make an effort to attend whenever possible, and keeping attendance concerns in mind gave us an important point of discussion to add to the meetings. We were able to speak to the student’s’ entire team, including parents, teachers, and sometimes mental health support, to explore barriers to attendance, reinforce the importance of consistent attendance at school, and determine who could best address those barriers to ensure students could make it to school as often as possible.

Finally, our small group was run to help students develop academic skills in the areas of goal setting, organization, and study habits. Because special education students often report feeling overwhelmed by school work, and because we often see absences on days of tests, for example, we determined that teaching and reinforcing these skills may alleviate some students’ anxiety, and therefore help eliminate that barrier to coming to school (BSMS:6, 7).

This last year was a particularly tough one. Many students in our school had long-term illnesses, many students experienced long-term mental health issues and family crises, and attendance was significantly lower in our total population compared to the previous year. In the end, the percentage of students with Special Education Plans who reached 6+ absences was higher than the year before rising from 47% to 59%. However, the percentage of 6+ absences increased in the general population as well, rising from 35% to 49%. Comparatively, the gap between Special Education students’ rate of concerning absences and that of the general population actually diminished.

Our data was helpful in showing us that the academic skills group had some success in increasing student attendance rates. We plan to run this group during the 2017-2018 academic year. In addition, we examined attendance rates for those students whose IEP meetings we attended, and those who we discussed and developed individualized interventions for through SST. Valuable data arose from looking at these daily attendance rates; we analyzed not just the rates for students present for the whole day, but also rates for students present for a partial day (that is, they arrived late or left early, but were at school for at least some of the day). This revealed a major gap, and we plan to do work to address tardies and early dismissals in the 2017-2018 school year. In addition, we plan to look at specific class attendance (perhaps for core classes) to target interventions most likely to help improve foundational academics.

Goal: By June 9, 2017, students on IEPs/504s reaching 6+ absences in either semester will be reduced by 10% from 47% reaching 6+ absences to 37% or fewer reaching 6+ absences.

Target Group: Special Education students

Data Used to Identify Students: Ongoing attendance threshold reports, Special Education Master List

School Counselor(s): Mark, Rebecca

ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): BSMS:6, BSMS:7

Type of Activities to be Delivered in What Manner?: REVISED SECTION 1. Student-specific interventions discussed at SST and delivered by appropriate party (counselor, case manager, Dean of Students, SAP). See following list: PD- Spoke with the Head of School about housing situation, keeping him even if homeless, and money for transportation if necessary. Helped him complete paperwork for Food Stamps and Medicaid benefits. Worked on getting him declared homeless. Communicated with GP about a physical checkup. CS- Had a team meeting and told Mom that medical notes are required for medical absences. Discussed other educational options with LEA KW- worked with 1:1 para-educator to help support participation in PE. SM- Purchased an alarm clock to help her get to school on time. Helped set up at the Family Place for services and housing due to homeless status. Set up rides to counseling and helped with Medicaid paperwork. Helped get snacks not covered by free/reduced lunch program. CL/JL- Looked into needed services and communicated with former school and therapist. Helped re-up Medicaid. Created shower kits and clothing changes at school to help with hygiene issues. SP- Discussed anxiety issue and his challenge fitting in then set up check ins with Case manager and counselor. JL- Got permission from Head of School for trip to Hulbert with class without permission forms. AW- raised money for necessary dental work and hooked up with dental van. Worked to get placement at Job Corps because he is homeless. AR- advocated to keep in Spanish when teachers wanted student removed. MH- Helped find a new counselor. BT- Worked with schedule to help get to class and accommodate for homelessness. SL- Began counseling for high anxiety and referral made to Upper Valley Pediatrics for counseling. IM- Began counseling for depression, adjusted schedule, referred to external therapist CC- Counselor met with student to set up success plan for World History and address depression. MT- Met with foster parent and VSAC counselor about the appropriateness of a college level class. Helped him create an organization system on his phone. 2. Counselors attend IEP meetings to discuss attendance concerns with team and brainstorm appropriate interventions. 3. Academic Skills small group - delivered to students with failing grades after first progress report.

Process Data (Number of students affected): 1. 15 Special Education students in grades 7-12 with attendance concerns 2. Counselor attended IEP/504 meetings for 7 students with attendance concerns throughout year. 3. 5 9-10th grade students on IEP/504 education plans.

Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): Survey given to special educators: For students on special education plans, how would you rate the following obstacles to regular attendance? Top 2: -Personal Mental Health -Family Mental Health Which interventions do you think are/would be most useful to helping students on plans improve overall attendance? Top 3: -1:1 Meetings with counselor to discuss barriers to regular attendance -Classroom lessons teaching resilience and discussing the benefits of regular attendance -Phone calls to families to discuss attendance concerns and barriers to regular attendance

Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): 1./2. Of the 15 students discussed for attendance concerns at SST meetings: Daily attendance rate (some or all of the day): 80% Daily attendance rate (present all day): 53% School totals (present all day): Special Education daily attendance rate: 82% Schoolwide daily attendance rate: 85% 3. Quarter 1 Attendance rate for group participants (before group): 81% Quarter 2 Attendance rate for participants (during/after group): 89%

Implications: 1. The gap between the daily attendance rate for the students targeted for this intervention and the special education population as a whole is wide -- 53% vs. 82%. This is largely because these students who are discussed at weekly SST meetings are those with the greatest need or concern. Creating individualized interventions for these students can be impactful since the team can tailor them to each student, situation, and family. 2. Attending annual IEP meetings is optional for school counselors, though we try to do so whenever possible. The daily attendance rate for those seven students whose meetings we attended was quite a bit lower than the overall special ed daily attendance rate. Again, this is because we make a point to go to those meetings where the concern is greatest. It may be beneficial for us to also make a point to attend meetings for students where attendance concerns are not as great. This may help the overall rate among Special Education students, and widen our reach to impact more students, hopefully intervening with some before their attendance issues become major problems. 3. For the academic success groups, student perceptions around goal-setting, and their personal abilities in organization and turning in assignments on time increased from the pre-test to the post-test. In short, students were more knowledgeable about goal-setting and more confident in their abilities to organize and turn in work. The outcome data yielded an increase in daily attendance for those students who completed the group, increasing from 81% to 89%. We believe that an increase in confidence about academic abilities may make students less anxious about attending school. Next year, we hope to run this group for a larger number of students, perhaps during their learning center time.