Attendance Works News

March 3rd, 2015

3/17 Webinar: Chronic Disease and School Attendance

Tuesday, March 17, 2015:  Connecting Chronic Health Conditions with School Attendance: Improving Data Collection and Use (11 am PT / 2 pm ET). National Association of Chronic Disease Directors.  Register here.

This webinar highlights the relationship between chronic health conditions and absenteeism and the collection and use of attendance data in the management of chronic conditions in schools.

Speakers, including Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang, will discuss absenteeism including health-related absences as a barrier to learning, share information and examples on data collection and use in identifying and tracking students with chronic conditions and demonstrating reduced absences through efforts that improve student health, and offer guidance to begin work in this area.

In addition, the webinar will feature innovative projects by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The state’s school health project will present on the development of a Healthy Schools Dashboard to report integrated data.

The Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) will discuss its incorporation of absenteeism data from all of the state’s public school systems and how these processes can apply to state health department-led efforts targeting chronic conditions in schools.

  • Presenters:  Hedy Chang, MPP, Director, Attendance Works
  • Nancy Dube, MPH, RN, President, National Association of State School Nurse Consultants and School Nurse Consultant, Maine Department of Education
  • Shirley Schantz, EdD, ARNP, RN, Director of Nursing Education, National Association of School Nurses
  • Cheryl De Pinto, MD, MPH, Medical Director, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Zachary Faigen, MSPH, Former Biosurveillance Epidemiologist, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene


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February 25th, 2015

Multiple Measures Should Include Chronic Absence

John Merrow, the respected education correspondent for PBS NewsHour, proposed in a  tongue-in-cheek blog item last week that leading educators and policymakers should sit down to a parlor game called “Multiple Measures.” As he sees it, that’s what it will take for Congress to renew the federal law governing K-12 schools (otherwise known as No Child Left Behind or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Merrow notes that most advocates, Republican and Democrat, want a version of the law that relies on more than standardized test scores to assess school progress. But what should the other metrics be?

We’d like to nominate our favorite measure: chronic absence.

Schools have long used attendance as an accountability metric, but their reporting is typically limited to how many students show up every day (known as average daily attendance) or how many are skipping school (a.k.a. truancy.) These measures are fine, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Daily averages can give you a general sense of how a school is doing, But, they don’t tell you who’s missing too much school or give you any clues to why. Likewise, truancy can identify students who are flouting school rules. But it doesn’t capture those who are missing too much class because of illness, family obligations or suspensions. While these absences are often excused, they still add up to academic trouble.

In fact, research shows that missing 10 percent of the school year for any reason is the tipping point for academic difficulty. The problem starts as early as preschool and kindergarten and continues through high school for many students–at least until they drop out.

Chronic absence is a measure of what proportion of the student body is missing a certain percentage or number of days in the school year. Attendance Works uses a 10 percent threshold, while some state and districts use other definitions. The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has just started asking districts to report how many students miss 15 or more days.

The great thing about tracking chronic absence, is that it can both expose the problem and point to solutions. A look at the data can show which grades need the most attention (The transition years of kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades often have the highest rates.) Cut another way, the data can show which neighborhoods are most affected, signaling that transportation troubles or community violence could be to blame. The data can also identify subgroups of students who are more likely to miss too much school.

Another great thing is that chronic absence can often be turned around when schools and community partners work together to build a culture of regular attendance and use their data to diagnose how to help students and families overcome barriers to getting to school.

In New Britain, Conn., for instance, kindergarten literacy scores rose as the school district cut the kindergarten chronic absence rate by more than half. In Chicago, graduation rates went up when high schools started paying closer attention to attendance and other risk factors in 9th grade.

Tracking chronic absence won’t require school districts to collect any new information. They simply have to analyze their attendance numbers in a different way.

While we aren’t sure what will happen with ESEA re-authorization, we know that the conversation about multiple measures offers an important opportunity to educate policymakers about the best metrics for assessing whether students are on track for academic success.

Join us in calling attention to chronic absence, because we know that if students miss too much school for any reason, none of the other investments in improving instruction will make much difference.



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February 20th, 2015

Principal Spotlight: Engaging Students for Better Attendance

Principal Joshua Solomon can gauge the magnitude of the absenteeism problem at his New York City high school even before the freshman class arrives. By looking at eighth grade records, he knows that nearly two fifths of students coming in have been chronically absent in the previous year. And he knows who they are.Screen shot 2015-01-06 at 1.50.15 PM

So from Day 1, Solomon and his staff at the Business of Sports School launched a series of steps to keep students in school and reduce absenteeism. That meant starting with an engaging curriculum, offering incentives for good attendance and providing mentors for students who miss too many days.

“By high school, a lot of kids feel like attendance is optional,” Solomon says. “That’s what we’re working on.”

Solomon’s first asset is a school curriculum built around the business and vocational skills needed in the sports world—a subject designed to engage teenagers. The 460-student school in Hell’s Kitchen partners with New York’s professional sports teams, allowing students to develop connections beyond the schoolyard.

The school also offers incentives for good attendance. The advisory with the best attendance wins a pizza party. Students with perfect attendance are invited to a pancake breakfast. And those with the most improved attendance receive a framed certificate. “It makes a difference and it actually makes it home,” Solomon said. “I’ve been to students’ houses, and I’ve seen the certificates framed and sitting on the wall.”

For students who were chronically absent in past years and those with poor attendance in the current year, the school assigns “success mentors,” part of a citywide strategy to improve attendance. These staff members take on one or two students and work with them on any challenges to attendance. Staff members are asked to log their interactions with students and receive rewards for the additional work they do. The school sets up lunches for mentors and the students they work with.

If a mentor identifies a challenge to attendance, such as transportation or childcare issues, the information is shared with the school’s attendance team. Students with deeper problems or more severe absenteeism are assigned mentors from community based organizations, who come to the school.

The extra attention leads to improved attendance in many cases, Solomon said. Students with mentors attended on average eight more days than they had in the previous year. About 28 percent of the chronically absent students improved their attendance enough to exit chronic absence. There was a slight uptick in the school’s overall attendance rate.

The strategy depends on attention to data. The school tracks chronic absence among students. It tracks the interactions that students have with their success mentors. An attendance team meets weekly to discuss the numbers and plot new approaches to improving attendance.

Solomon also uses the data to show students where they stand. “I go into the advisories and I print out what their attendance record is for the year,” he says, “I say: ‘This is where you are and this is where you should be.’ It makes them aware.”

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