In disaggregating attendance data from 2015-16 onward, we noticed that, while economically-disadvantaged students represented only 22% of our student population, they represented 70% of the students identified as requiring attendance intervention. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, 30 economically-disadvantaged students had 10 or more absences, and this became our target group for our closing-the-gap action plan. Our vision and mission highlight our belief that comprehensive school counseling programs support all students’ success, and we know that school attendance is imperative for making and maintaining academic progress.
To address this gap for economically-disadvantaged students, we offered interventions throughout the year. Through the process of identifying which Mindsets & Behaviors we wanted to target, we recognized the strong ties not only to the academic domain, but also to career readiness and workplace habits. We focused on long-range goal planning with our target group to foster motivation to succeed now, so that they could succeed in the future. Schoolwide programming included monthly attendance prizes and quarterly attendance recognition. An attendance-focused core curriculum lesson was delivered to 3rd-grade students. We chose this grade because it had the highest number of students approaching 10+ absences, and we wanted the lesson to serve as a preventative measure. Three small groups were designed for 3rd-5th grade target group students to improve attendance and promote school success. The small groups also incorporated attendance calendars with opportunities to earn incentives. In individual counseling, we checked in with each student every two weeks during the first semester, and as needed during the second semester. Additional efforts included monthly consultation with administrators, our school social worker, and our district attendance coordinator, as well as collaboration with families of target group students to offer resources and to build relationships to improve attendance. Because parents play a key role in attendance during elementary school, we communicated throughout the year, both in print and electronically, about attendance policies, how to report absences, and the importance of and impact of consistent attendance.
Our interventions were developed based on Attendance Works’ Teaching Attendance 2.0 toolkit. Attendance Works is “a national and state initiative that pushes for better policy and practice to improve school attendance”, and the teaching toolkit was developed with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). The toolkit includes tips regarding data, engagement, and student supports that were the foundation for our interventions, lessons, and communication home with families. We chose to use Attendance Works’ resources to support our attendance interventions because of their extensive attendance-related research, the availability of Attendance Awareness Month materials, and their focus on positive engagement with students and families as a primary way to impact chronic absenteeism.
These efforts contributed to a 20% decrease in chronically-absent students during 2017-18. At the end of 2016-17, 30 economically-disadvantaged students had 10+ absences; however, by the end of 2017-18, that number decreased to 24 students. Perception data also indicated growth. When asked whether it is important to be at school each day on a pre-survey in September, 17 students answered yes and 13 students answered no. When asked the same question on a post-survey in May, 28 students answered yes and 2 answered no. When asked if they are on time for school on the pre-survey, 10 students answered almost always, 13 students answered sometimes, and 7 students answered never. When asked the same question on the post-survey, 16 students answered almost always, 13 students answered sometimes, and 1 student answered never. Pre-survey responses also allowed for additional data collection including how students woke up in the morning and common reasons for missing school.
One notable success was that the targeted students who participated in the 3rd-5th grade small groups scored an average of 22% higher on the post-survey than targeted K-2nd grade students who did not participate in small groups. Additionally, five of the six targeted students who improved their attendance and were no longer identified as chronically absent at the end of the year participated in the small groups. As a result, we will extend groups to include 1st and 2nd graders, and we will also look at kindergarten students who may need to be targeted in the spring semester. Based on the positive results, we will continue to deliver attendance-focused lessons, groups, and individual interventions when school data indicates the need. We will also continue to monitor the attendance of the students targeted through these interventions to ensure their continued success or to identify the need for further support.