Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

November 13th, 2015

Virtual Summit Draws Hundreds To Learn About Every Student, Every Day

Hundreds of educators, social workers, administrators and advocates joined a virtual summit Thursday outlining the federal Every Student, Every Day initiative to address and eliminate chronic absence.

Opening remarks came from Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who will assume the duties of Education Secretary when Arne Duncan resigns at the end of the year. The online summit outlined key steps that states, districts and communities can take to improve student achievement by monitoring and reducing chronic absence.

Two of the nation’s leading experts on absenteeism –Johns Hopkins researcher Bob Balfanz from the Everyone Graduates Center and Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang – discussed the causes of and solutions to chronic absence. Leaders from New York CityGrand Rapids, Mich., and the state of Tennessee then spoke about their efforts to improve achievement by reducing absences. The e-summit was hosted by the United Way Worldwide.

If you missed it, or just want to review what you saw:

We included links to research, organizations and tools mentioned in Thursday’s e-suumit and are reviewing the chat for links that participants posted. We’re also preparing answers to questions submitted, but not answered during Thursday’s e-summit.

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November 11th, 2015

Grand Rapids: Strive for Less than 5

Thursday’s virtual summit will feature a segment on how Grand Rapids, Michigan, has reduced chronic absence by 25% with a simple actionable challenge.

With more than a third of Grand Rapids Public Schools students missing nearly a month of CHALLENGE_5_logoschool every year, educators and community leaders knew they needed to turn around school attendance. Their response was a simple, actionable challenge to reduce absences for all students, combined with increased attention to data and support for students and families with serious barriers to getting to school. Over the past three years, these efforts have helped reduce chronic absence rates by 25 percent and engaged the entire community.

Grand Rapids Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal credits a community-wide approach for attendance improvements. “It does take a village, and I hate to say that because people say that has become such a cliché,” she said. “But really that has been the secret for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The village answered the call.”

Grand Rapids’ campaign, a partnership between the school district and the Believe 2 Become initiative, builds off the training and professional development provided by Attendance Works. It also complements a broader, regional initiative led by the Kent School Services Network (KSSN) involving community schools in several local school districts.

A key piece of the Grand Rapids attendance improvement strategy is a campaign delivering a consistent message to all students. It’s called Challenge 5, and it urges students to strive to miss fewer than five days of school each year. The message appears in both English and Spanish on posters and stickers at school, on billboards along the roadway and yard signs around town. A giant leaderboard for Challenge 5 sits just inside every school, giving a monthly update on how each grade is doing on the challenge. Faith leaders talk about attendance. So do other community partners.

“It’s critically important that children and family hear a consistent message across the community,” said Chana Edmond-Verley, senior program officer of Believe 2 Become, which partnered with the school district to launch Challenge 5. “Think about it as a child. If my mother is talking about it, and the providers in my summer program and my afterschool program, even in my church and in my school – if we’re all on the same message about what really matters, then I think kids will know, families will know, and they’ll be able to achieve it.”

The community engagement goes beyond the attendance challenge. Grand Rapids worked with Attendance Works to develop a data-driven strategy for monitoring chronic absence and intervening with students who are missing too much school. Attendance teams as each school keep track of who is chronically absent and reach to students and families to turn the trends around. The teams, which meet weekly, include a worker from the local department of social services and a community school coordinator in addition to the school principal, nurse, attendance secretary and district family support specialist.

Challenge 5 provides both attendance incentives, as well as the unifying theme for agencies and community partners. “The parent engagement office knew this attendance challenge could be a game changer for the district,” said Mel Atkins, Executive Director of Community & Student Affairs for the school district. “When looking at the our data, we quickly realized that coming to school has a direct impact on achievement.”

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October 31st, 2015

Chronic Absence’s Impact on the Whole Classroom

Research has shown again and again that students who are chronically absent lag behind on test scores and other measures. But what happens to their classmates when there is too much chronic absenteeism in the classroom? Can good attenders suffer academically when their classmates miss too much school?

 A new study by University of California Santa Barbara professor Michael Gottfried shows a clear correlation between high rates of chronic absence in the classroom and weaker academic performance for all students. In fact, students in classes with no chronically absent students had test scores that were 10% higher on average than those in classrooms where half the students were chronic absentees. The spillover effects are especially pronounced for children from low-income families and students with behavioral issues.

Why does this happen? Gottfried suggests that teachers might be slowing down instruction to make sure that chronically absent students catch up. Also, he theorizes that students who are missing that much school can become behavioral problems, disrupting class by acting out. He writes:

“Just like academic disruptions, behavioral disruptions also might slow the learning process for non-absent peers, as teachers must devote their time and resources to classroom management rather than to instruction. Again, while this may occur for any degree of absenteeism, it is hypothesized that chronically absent students might invoke even greater academic and behavioral disruptions.”

Gottfried’s study, Chronic Absence in the Classroom Context: Effects on Achievement, has been accepted for publication in Urban Education. His analysis focuses on elementary school students. He looks specifically at 23,000 third and fourth grade students to evaluate two years of test results. And he chose a large East Coast urban district because many of these districts have large numbers of students facing significant barriers to getting to school every day. His study defines chronic absence as missing 18 or more days in a school year in excused and unexcused absences.

Consistent with prior research, he found students who were chronically absent had lower test scores. What’s unique about this study was that Gottfried found that classmates also scored lower when their peers were chronically absent. In other words, when students in the classroom had good attendance, everyone in that room scored higher than students in classrooms with chronically absent peers. The effects were greater for girls than for boys and also greater for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, a proxy for poverty, and those identified as having a behavioral issue. Gottfried writes:

Thus, those facing additional challenges may be placed at even greater risk for academic decline when considering the role of classmates’ chronic absences. Nonetheless, the findings do indicate that all students are negatively affected by this behavior.

Recognizing this, what can we do? Gottfried recommends:

  • Schools and districts should track chronic absence data rather than looking simply at average daily attendance.
  • Schools and districts should break down chronic absence rates by classrooms, so they can detect possible problems and identify solutions
  • Urban districts and city leadership should examine the barriers that students face in getting to school – such as health problems, unreliable transportation or unstable housing – and address these issues, as well as providing support for students in classes with high chronic absence rates
  • Educators need to focus on absenteeism in the early grades and intervene with students. They should engage community partners, such as afterschool providers and mentoring program, to support chronically absent students.





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