*REVISED SECTION *
*While we failed to specify which questions on our survey were targeting attitudes, knowledge, and skills, they were created with all in mind. Please note the change, also indicated in the Perception Data section of the template below, to reflect that Questions 1 and 2 measured attitudes and Question 3 measured knowledge and skills. Additionally, in a follow-up conversation with our lead reviewer, the feedback was that the rubric does not require that a pre/post survey that collects perception data include items on the survey that assess all three - attitudes, knowledge and skills.*
Our principal encouraged us to improve attendance as part of our school improvement plan, and attendance reports helped us hone in on students with 10 or more unexcused absences. We disaggregated data by grade, lunch status, race, and failures. We found a strong correlation between poor attendance and both failing grades (59% of Fs went to students with chronic absenteeism, though they accounted for only 10% of the school population) and free/reduced lunch status (these students averaging 33% more absences than full price lunch students).
Researching attendance, we followed the ASCA webinar: “Improving Attendance, Attitude and Achievement for At-risk Students.” We incorporated her five essential research-based elements into activities and lesson plans. To “provide feedback that leads to self-monitoring”, students charted their attendance in agenda books and answered surveys on school refusal. The student who scored high for school refusal had follow-up individual counseling, and a parent phone conference to discuss specific attendance strategies. To “build trusting relationships”, we led small groups to forge ties with our students. To “promote academic and behavioral engagement”, we distributed PBSIS Rappers and led responsibility role plays. To “increase student motivation”, with administrative and PTA support, we offered a bagel breakfast and raffled gift cards. To “connect school and home”, we spoke with the students’ parents about our program and goals. Our school’s multi-tiered attendance policy already involved interventions for all students, including counselors and administrators calling and sending letters to parents about attendance and legal action taken at 10 unexcused absences.
We saw an increase in unexcused absences among our targeted 8th-graders, multiple 8th-graders refused to attend the bagel breakfast, and two expressed embarrassment at being grouped with younger students. Due to this, we are planning a separate 8th-grade pizza party and will select higher value gift cards for them as an 8th-grade privilege. We will offer them individual counseling instead of small group counseling, which some indicated was less stigmatizing. We will start the group earlier in the school year, to prevent as many absences as possible, and we will research ways to make our presentations more engaging and build greater rapport.
We saw no improvements from pre to post-survey on our question about postsecondary learning: “I need to continue school and learning after high school to have a successful career.” Either the question was poorly-worded, or the message was poorly chosen or executed for its audience. Some of these students are unenthusiastic with unlikely career goals, so a focus on college or trade school may have been too much to expect in this first attempt at improving attendance. It is good to see where we fail to connect with our students so that we can improve the next time. We plan to reword this question for 6th and possibly 7th-graders in the future to the less pointed: “to get better at any job, I need to continue to learn my whole life.”
For reasons mentioned above, especially for 8th-graders, we plan to replace Mindset M 4, with Mindset M 6, “Positive attitude toward work and learning”. Our new focus will be more grounded in helping the students see their current school lives as positive and enjoyable. Our failure to improve their view of postsecondary education has shown us that we need to focus on the fun of middle school.
Sixth-grade interventions were met with a 35% reduction in absences. Next year we will start sooner for all grades. We saw a 21% improvement with 7th-graders, though perhaps absences will decrease more with a change from M 4, postsecondary education, to M 6, positive attitude. For 8th-grade, we will change the mindset: M 6, a separate pizza party, more highly valued incentives, individual counseling instead of small groups, and add a career lesson that would let them research the likelihood of earning a living as a professional skateboarder or youtuber. Data analysis makes these insights and future improvements possible.