September 17th, 2013

A Framework for Learning Leads to Better Attendance & Achievement

During Attendance Awareness Month, we’ll be running several guest blogs from allies who are working to improve school attendance and student achievement. Windy Lopez, Director of Community Affairs for Scholastic, contributed this post about the extraordinary work going on in Gainesville, Georgia. The blog post originally appeared on Scholastic’s blog Frizzle.

How can students benefit from effective classroom teaching if they are chronically late and often not in the classroom at all?  Research continues to demonstrate the direct correlation between academic achievement and school attendance as well as how excessive absence in the elementary years leads to truancy and school dropout in middle and high school.

Marking September 2013 as the first-ever Attendance Awareness Month, The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and other partners have put together some very useful resources and tools for leaders, educators and families.  They have also gathered some of the latest research that further highlights the need to address the wide range of barriers that lead to chronic absence, rather than treating the problem in isolation. These barriers, as we know too well, often have more to do with the complex issues related to poverty and community/school/home environments, then individual students simply not wanting to go to school.

While many schools have a variety of student supports in place to address issues like attendance, their implementation is often fragmented and marginalized. Scholastic is working with UCLA professors Howard S. Adelman, Ph.D., and Linda Taylor, Ph.D., whose 40 years of research demonstrates the need for unified and comprehensive systems of learning supports to address barriers to learning and teaching. Their framework delineates how to maximize use and effectiveness of resources by fully integrating them into—and giving them the same attention as—classroom instruction and school management.

As part of our work together, Scholastic and UCLA along with AASA started a Learning Supports Lead District Collaborative in 2007 to help learn from and share best practice. Gainesville City Schools in Georgia has been involved since the beginning and has seen some remarkable outcomes related to both school climate issues as well as student achievement including:

  • Percent of students absent more than 10 days decreased from 21 percent to 5 percent
  • Tardies declined by 11 percent
  • Disciplinary tribunals decreased by 27 percent
  • Bus referrals reduced by 49%
  • Graduation rate increased from 73.3 to 87.2 percent.
  • At each school, more students than ever before scored in the “exceeding expectations” category in state testing
  • Students scores improved on SAT, ACT and AP tests.
  • Teen pregnancies declined by 40 percent.
  • Parental satisfaction increased from 78 percent to 93 percent.

As it relates to their impressive outcomes around attendance, Dr. Dyer shares a bit of a “before and after”:

“Prior to having a learning supports system in place, we addressed attendance by placing expectations in parent/student handbooks and reinforcing them through parental notification and referrals for chronic absentees and tardies. Now, we focus on identifying and addressing the root issues of “why” students are missing school.  We also focus on important ‘transitions’ such as consistently having a welcoming and inviting start to the school day as well as improving the ways we engage students and families who are new to the district. 

“At the high school level, we’ve designed flexible schedules with blended learning for students who need to balance school and work. Most importantly, we have shifted from ‘compliance mode’ to a unified and integrated system of learning supports that addresses all barriers to learning. By doing so we’ve created a positive school climate where children and families not only feel safe and welcomed but are present and fully engaged as learners and partners.”

Efforts like Attendance Awareness Month provide an important opportunity to share examples like Gainesville’s and others.  In the weeks to come, I’ll be highlighting some of the other states and districts that are embracing this integrated approach.  And, I forward to hearing from you: How are you comprehensively addressing inter-related issues such as attendance, bullying and family and community engagement?

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