Improving the attendance of elementary students can be a tricky endeavor. Attending school is not always in their control, but having them at school is important and so I chose to focus on our students with excessive absences. On their website, the Virginia Department of Education states that “students who are absent for more than 10% of the school year are at a greater risk of academic failure”. Based on this information, I decided to concentrate on second, third, and fourth grade students who had 15 or more absences during the 2016-17 school year. Their absence rates were close to or above the 10% mark and they would be taking the Virginia Standards of Learning tests during the 2017-18 school year.
When looking for interventions and activities that would work best for these students, I found Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that pushes for better policy and practice to improve school attendance (www.attendanceworks.org). I reviewed their three-tiered system of interventions and determined that my students would benefit from several of their tier two interventions – reviewing students’ attendance each week (this changed to students tracking their own attendance daily), recognizing good and improved attendance weekly, and maintaining contact with parents regarding their child’s attendance. I also scheduled small groups where we could discuss the impact of absences on success and discuss strategies for dealing with barriers to good attendance.
I was very happy with the results of this group. Nine of the sixteen students decreased their absences by the goal of 25% and all but one student showed improvement in their attendance. Perception data results showed that the students think coming to school is important and that good attendance will help them to do better in school. They also know that there are adults, both at home and school, who care if the come to school. I saw this throughout the year as the students took more ownership of their attendance and became more aware of the impact absences have on their successes. Students who would normally miss an entire day for an appointment started coming to school for whatever time they could before or after the appointment. They shared their successes in the classroom with me and were excited when they had perfect attendance for a week or month.
I plan to continue these activities next year, but will make some changes. To begin, I would like to work with students in first through fifth grades. I will also monitor the attendance of our kindergartners to see if assistance is needed. This year I had a kindergarten teacher ask me to work with one of her students on attendance and he became an honorary member of our group. Having those daily check-ins and developing a connection with him led to the student coming to school more consistently which helped him to become more successful academically. I think showing them the importance of coming to school in the earlier grades will lead to better attendance when they are older. Additionally, I will begin the year with the daily check-ins rather than weekly. I felt this helped contribute to the students’ success as I was able to build a strong rapport with the students and they knew that there was someone who cared about them coming to school. I will continue to target the same ASCA mindsets and behaviors, however, I will add the social skill of creating positive and supportive relationships with other students (B-SS 2) as I saw this occur between group members this year, especially between those students in the same classrooms.
As happy as I am about the perception and outcome data results, I am even more excited about the relationships that were developed through this group. Having those daily check-ins allowed me the opportunity to not only help these students to improve their attendance, but to learn more about them and help them in other areas of their lives.