Attendance Works News

January 20th, 2015

Winter Weather Messaging

 

Every winter, snow and slushy weather keep parents from getting their children to school. So do the colds, fevers and earaches that often come with the winter months.

These absences, even if they are excused, can add up to academic trouble. Attendance Works has developed a toolkit with talking points, handouts, sample letters and robocalls that schools can use to combat winter weather absences.

A study of in Massachusetts, Flaking Out: Student Absences and Snow Days as Disruptions of Instructional Time, found that each missed day affected a student’s test scores and grades. Interestingly, the researcher did not find the same impact when the entire school was shut down for heavy snow. Rather, it was on days with moderate snow, when school stayed open but some students missed class, that the effects were seen.

The impact of weather-related absences was twice as large for students from low-income families as it was for their more affluent peers, the study found. Black and Hispanic students were also disproportionately affected.Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 2.57.40 PM

Researchers at the Center for New York City Schools at the New School tracked absenteeism rates on a fever chart and found significant dips on snowy days when school was in session, shown in pale blue on the chart to the right. The steepest drop came in a school in a low-income neighborhood, the dark red line on the chart, part of the new study A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools

These trends underscore two factors that often influence attendance: transportation and health. Low-income students are more likely to depend on public transit or walking to get to school, both of which can be easily disrupted in a snowstorm. These same students are less likely to have access to good health care, making them more susceptible to colds and other ailments.

So what can parents do?

First, they can develop back up plans for getting children to school in winter weather. That could mean checking with other parents who have a car that can manage in the snow or forming a “walking school bus” to walk children to school with other parents. The school’s front office can help, too.

Parents can also do their best to keep children healthy by dressing them warmly for the cold weather and encouraging them to wash their hands regularly. A study showed that regular use of hand sanitizer can help reduce absences. If children do get sick, parents should talk to a doctor or the school nurse about whether they should come to school. This handout offers some tips about when children are too sick for school.

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January 19th, 2015

Family Vacation vs. School Time: Is it ever ok to miss school?

The New York Time’s Motherlode blog kicked off a lively debate (159 comments so far) with a blog post titled Skipping School for Vacation: Good for Families, or Bad for Students.

It begins with a parent concerned that her child’s absence was deemed “illegal” and explores whether schools should allow such absences.

The way we see it, that’s the wrong question: Parents shouldn’t be worried about what the school will allow but what their children can handle.  They should pay attention to attendance not because of the rules, but because it matters for academic success, from prek through 12th grade. In the early grades, missing too much school can contribute to trouble reading. In middle and high school, absenteeism can predict dropout rates.Parents need to weigh these consequences as they plot their family vacations.

How many absences are too many? The tipping point seems to be 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days–excused or unexcused. That may sound like a lot, but it can be as little as two days a month, and that can add up pretty quickly.

The debate on the Motherlode blog reveals that some parents wouldn’t dream of taking their children out of school for any reason beyond illness or true emergencies. Others argue that there is value in a family vacation, both the enrichment that children experience in new places and the the time spent with parents. Still others differentiate between a once-in-a-lifetime trip and an off-season visit to Disney.

Many teachers weighed in, too, saying that the time off is disruptive to the students–not just those missing school but the students left behind who have to wait for others to catch up when they return. Some teacher bristle at having to prepare homework packets, only to see few student actually doing the work.

The blog offers a rubric for determining whether to take a child out of school:

For parents wrestling with the decision of whether to take their children out of school during term time, Sara Dimerman, an Ontario psychologist, suggests a simple acronym, FLAG, to test whether an “illegal” absence is advisable. Here is her advice (paraphrased, with her permission):

Frequency. Is this absence a rare treat, or a regular event? If you take your children out of school frequently, teachers may interpret your actions as lack of investment in school.

Length. How long will your child be out of school? A few days may be reasonable for some children, but for others, the loss of those same days could set them up for long-term struggle.

Ability. Will your child be overwhelmed by the missed instruction or collaboration with classmates? Does your child tend to get anxious or upset by situations like this? Take her temperament and ability into account.

Grade. Missing three days during first grade are not the same thing as missing three days during junior year of high school. Additionally, if your child is on a block schedule, those three days could easily equal an entire week or more of a semester schedule.

We would argue with the contention that early absences aren’t as important as those that come later. After all, research spells out the consequences of chronic absenteeism for early reading and math skills. But it’s true that the effects are often felt more immediately in high school, when absences can pull down a semester grade and affect a student’s GPA.

Join the conversation and let us know what you think!

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January 13th, 2015

Leadership, Commitment Secure Better Attendance in Covina-Valley

Improving attendance across a school district takes leadership and commitment. Covina-Valley Unified School District has demonstrated that leadership by engaging school and district staff, community members, and business owners to work collaboratively to reduce chronic absenteeism.

Since the 2011-12 school year, Covina-Valley has made improved attendance a top priority, resulting in a significant increase in average daily attendance rates and a decrease in chronic absence among its more than 12,000 students. Daily attendance has increased substantially from 95.6% to 97.8%. Chronic absence rates fell from 10% in 2011-12 to 8.1% in 2013-14. With better attendance, the school district recouped nearly $1.7 million in state funds and was recognized for its efforts from the California Department of Education.

As part of Los Angeles County, Covina-Valley Unified School District serves approximately 12,300 students in 10 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 3 high schools, and 1 continuation school within the communities of Covina, West Covina, Glendora, San Dimas, and Irwindale, California. Student’s within the district come from diverse backgrounds, with 77% Hispanic/Latino, 11% Caucasian, 8% Asian, and 4% are either African American or Filipino. About 70 percent of students participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program.

Covina-Valley’s successful strategy involves an investment in attendance personnel, a district-wide emphasis on building a positive culture of attendance at school sites, actionable data, a Saturday Academic School, community partnerships and a strengthened truancy infrastructure.

Realizing that the lack of attention to attendance was affecting student achievement and causing a significant decline in state revenues, the school district reinstated an administrative position — the Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance. Dr. Jessica Houpt who was charged with the development and ongoing implementation of district-wide attendance efforts. Dr. Houpt drew creatively upon available resources, from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the community, Attendance Works and within the school district.

To build a culture of attendance, Covina-Valley trained principals to implement and expand Los Angeles County’s “I’m In” school attendance promotion and anti-truancy campaign at their school sites and trained local police in the “I’m In” model to become a helpful, non-punitive resources for schools.

Recognizing the importance of producing data at the district-level rather than relying on school staff to generate the information, Dr. Houpt and her team compile data on students who have missed 15 or more days in the prior year, missed 10 days in a single semester or who have been identified for the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) process.

Armed with this actionable data, Dr. Houpt brings the information to principals before the start of each school year so no time is lost in efforts to get students back in school and on track. As the school year progresses, trends in these data points are charted over time allowing principals to see their progress in relation to each school in the district. This creates “friendly competition” among the principals that serves to improve attendance district-wide.

To motivate students to come to school, Covina-Valley revamped its Saturday Academic School, using enrichment and extracurricular activities to create a more engaging academic environment for students, elementary through high school. The program not only offers students an opportunity to make up for absences but also contributes to a more positive, engaged student body as evidenced by students attending voluntarily even if they do not need to make up absences.

While the local police are a strong partner in Covina-Valley’s attendance efforts, local businesses as well as residents are growing in their support. Businesses donate items such as bicycles that can be used as attendance incentives for students. As the program grows, community members are beginning to call school officials when they see students truant from school.

Covina-Valley strengthens the district’s truancy infrastructure by 1) addressing truancy in elementary schools through the Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) program and 2) creating an award-winning Model SARB (School Attendance Review Board), recognized by the California Department of Education, with more frequent meetings so attendance concerns can be addressed in a timely manner when prevention-oriented activities are not enough.

In keeping with California state regulations, students receive a notice of truancy if they are absent three days without an excuse or are late to class by 30 minutes without a valid excuse. If students receive three truancy notifications, they are referred to a school attendance review team. If that step does not result in improvements, they are taken to a district Student Attendance Review Board. If attendance remains a problem, students are referred to the courts.

Beyond these strategies, Covina works to offer the sort of activities that make students want to come to school because they feel connected to engaging programs and caring adults. Las Palmas Middle School offers AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination), WEB (8th grade mentors to 6th graders), Renaissance program (rewards program), and athletics. Students are rewarded for their hard work and citizenship, which makes them feel special.  Technology is an important part of their learning and as such two computer labs and several I-Pad carts are used everyday.

Lancer Academy is held on Saturday’s for student academic core instruction, enrichment or intervention.  Lancer Academy has offered courses in I Movie, video game design, Google maps, 3D drawing, and music, as part of the academy, guidance teachers connect with the students, Teleparent (phone system), and PTA.

All the best efforts to support attendance can falter if adequate attention and resources do not exist at the district-level. Covina-Valley’s commitment to improving students’ attendance is a bright example of district leadership.

1/13/15

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