Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

August 15th, 2014

Q&A with Hedy Chang

America’s Promise Alliance, one of our leading partners on Attendance Awareness Month, published an interviewwith Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang today. Chang spent much of her career focused on advancing student success, and improving attendance and engagement in early grades. In honor of Attendance Awareness Month in September, Esther Berg asked her about importance of curbing chronic absence and plans for September. Here’s the Q&A.

You are formerly the co-director of California Tomorrow, a nonprofit committed to drawing strength from cultural, linguistic and racial diversity. How did you come to focus on attendance? How has your background influenced your direction of Attendance Works?

Regardless of the specific job I have held, my life’s mission has always been about creating a fair and just society where we value the strengths of our diversity and afford all members an equal opportunity to succeed.  I believe chronic absence is a sign that we, as a society, are failing to provide pathways out of poverty and are instead creating an entrenched underclass that if it continues to grow will undermine the economic and social health for our entire country.  Because of my prior background, I find solving the problem of poor attendance requires taking into account barriers related to racial, linguistic and cultural differences while also identifying common concerns like lack of access to health care, poor transportation and community violence that help build a broader coalition for change.

The Attendance Awareness Campaign promotes using the tag #SchoolEveryDay. You are a mother, what are the challenges to getting your kids to school everyday?

When my children were younger, the toughest part was learning the art of getting two children, each with a mind of their own, out of bed, dressed and then out the door at the same time with everything they would need at school!  But, I’m lucky. I have a car that works. I live in a safe neighborhood. And, I have a husband who takes on his fair share.  My challenges are minor compared to single parents struggling to make ends meet and still getting their kids to school every day.

Attendance Awareness month launched last year. What did you learn and what do you hope for this year’s campaign?

I learned about the power and influence we can have when all of us work together to help everyone realize the importance of making sure absences don’t add up to so much time lost in the classroom that students fall behind.  We were thrilled that 250 communities joined us in using September to make sure students are in school every day so they can learn.  We hope even more communities will join us this year and they will begin using their data to identify and positively engage students at risk because of a past history of chronic absence.   The experience of the Success Mentors in New York City tells us that we can make a difference if we connect struggling students to a caring adult or even an older peer who greets them every day they attend school, calls home as soon as there is an absence and connects them to resources to help them overcome attendance barriers.

What has surprised you the most in working in this field? 

Two things have surprised me. First, I am constantly amazed by how many people – from policymakers to practitioners – don’t realize that schools, by and large, have not been monitoring how many and which student miss too much school for any  reason that they are academically at risk. They mistakenly assume it is sufficient to just track  truancy (unexcused absences) and average daily attendance (how many kids show up to school each day), when both measures can mask high levels of chronic absence.  I’ve also been deeply troubled by the immediate tendency to blame parents for poor attendance.  We need instead to engage as parents as partners in identifying what keeps children from going to schools and developing lasting solutions.

If you had a policy wish for your work, what would it be? 

I wish every district in the United States would be required to analyze and publish rates of chronic absence by school, grade and sub-population and then schools would be required to describe how they will partner with families and community agencies to reduce chronic absence as part of their school improvement plan.

In February 2013, you were named a Champion of Change by the White House. How has this recognition influenced your work? Did you get to go the White House? What’s your favorite thing to do when you visit Washington, D.C.?

This recognition has made me even more deeply committed to partnering with African American leaders, educators, communities and families to identify effective solutions to preventing and reducing chronic absence among black students who often have the highest rates of chronic absence in the early grades.  And, yes, I got to go to the White House for the Black History Month celebration. What a thrill!

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July 28th, 2014

September Counts: Poor Attendance in 1st Month Predicts Chronic Absence

Looking for an easy way to identify students who might fall behind because they miss too much school? Try looking at attendance in the first month of school.

A new study from the Baltimore Education Research Consortium shows that absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance patterns throughout the year, providing an early warning sign for parents and educators to intervene and put students back on track.

Why September Matters: Improving Student Attendance, by Linda S. Olson, examines attendance in the Baltimore City Public Schools for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in September and throughout the rest of the 2012-13 school year. The study found:

  •  Students who missed fewer than 2 days in September typically had good attendance rates for the entire year.
  •  Half the students who missed 2-4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school, which is known as chronic absence.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 students who missed more than 4 days in September were chronically absent that year.

This early-in-the-year warning indicator gives teachers and principals a chance to intervene early before students miss so many days that they are falling behind academically. It also makes an effective message for parents about the importance of developing good attendance habits starting on the first day. Our Attendance Awareness Month partnership is motivated by a desire to engage parents, schools and community organizations early on to the pernicious effects of chronic absence.

Past studies from BERC and other researchers demonstrate that missing that much school—in excused or unexcused absences, in elementary school and in high school—has negative consequences for academic achievement. Chronic absence as early as pre-K is associated with poor reading skills and retention in third grade. By the 6th grade, it is considered an early warning indicator that a student will drop out of high school. For schools, high absenteeism rates can slow down classroom instruction and diminish school climate.

Missing more than 20 days in a school year, essentially a month of school, is an indicator of disengagement, especially in the middle and high school years. In the early grades, absenteeism often reflects family and community conditions, such as a lack of access to good health care, unreliable transportation, unstable housing or a dangerous walk to school.

Copies of the full report  including recommendations can be found on BERC’s website.

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July 22nd, 2014

When and How We Intervene if Instability Threatens Children’s Well-Being

Last fall, Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang was invited to an extraordinary gathering at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., where experts from various fields talked all day about how instability can undermine a child’s healthy development and success in life.

Absenteeism plays an important role–both as a symptom of the instability in a child’s life and as a cause of more instability as that child misses out of the connection to school and friends. It can also be a red flag for identifying children and families who need support.

Today, the Urban Institute published a report on instability among children and a series of commentary pieces from participants in last fall’s gathering. They include insights on instability among immigrant families and military communities. They offer suggestions for changes in policy and practice that can improve the lives of these children. Chang contributed the piece reposted below:

Taking the Next Step: Identifying When and How We Intervene if Instability Threatens Children’s Well-Being

This thoughtful exploration highlights the need for researchers, practitioners and policymakers to find the answers to two important questions:

1. When does instability pose a threat to a child’s well-being?

2. What can be done to ameliorate the adverse impact?

Clearly change in circumstances is normal over the course of a life of a child and family. Some changes can even be positive. They occur because a family has a chance to move to a better school, move into bigger home, or follow a parent to a better job. As children get older, transitions to new schools naturally occur.

Even when change is not planned, anticipated, or even desired, instability can often still have a positive effect because it teaches a child and his or her family new skills and habits including resiliency, tenacity, and grit in the face of adversity.

How do we know when instability is no longer a “bump in the road” to be overcome but a major threat to a child’s well-being and the ability of their family to keep their child on a path to a better future?

Previous research examining the connection between maternal risk factors and absenteeism from school (also a form of instability) offers useful insight. In her 2008 analysis, Romero found the best predictor of chronic absence (missing 10 percent or more of school for any reason) was cumulative risk, or the presence of three or more of the following risks: poverty, teenage or single parenting, low levels of maternal education, receipt of welfare, unemployment, poor maternal health, food insecurity, and a large family size.

Drawing upon these insights, we could hypothesize that instability is most problematic when family structures are fragile and families face multiple forms of instability. When this happens, feelings of stress can become overwhelming and prevent a family from accessing sufficient resources to buffer the impact on their children’s well-being. It is worth exploring whether adverse impacts are greater for younger children.

What can we do to ameliorate the adverse impact of instability? One possibility is to become more adept at using data to identify and offer supports to students, families and neighborhoods that are at risk because of fragile family structures and multiple forms of instability.

We also need to better understand what is needed beyond just resources that address the source of such instability as being homeless or the loss of a job. For example, what would help families develop sensitive parenting skills that reduce the stress levels in their children triggered by instability? How can we ensure teachers and other service providers have the skills to help children cope and thrive despite the challenges their families face?  

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