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.