Attendance Works News

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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November 2nd, 2015

Holiday Messaging Toolkit: Keeping Kids in School

Halloween is over, and before long we’ll see decorations for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays everywhere. That means it’s time to think about how to staunch the spike of absences that often come right before and after the holidays.

We know that families want what is best for their children, but they don’t always realize how absences can add up to academic problems. Sometimes they allow children to miss school so they can squeeze a few more days out of the vacation season or find cheaper airfare.

At the same time, results of a parent survey suggest that families would be willing to shorten vacations if they believe the absences are affecting academic success. Principals, teachers and community partners have an opportunity to reduce holiday absences by ensuring that parents and students understand the toll that absenteeism takes on achievement.

We’ve updated our  tools and messaging for school leaders hoping to encourage good attendance around the winter holidays. We recommend:

  • Send a letter out before Thanksgiving and again in the weeks before the longer winter break urging students and families to avoid absences.
  • Stress that teachers will be teaching every day and that children will miss out on instruction if they do not show up. Remind them that a homework packet does not take the place of classroom learning and interaction.
  • Encourage teachers to talk to students about the importance of showing up in the days before and after the holiday break.
  • Plan a special event or service activity for the last day before the holiday or the first day back. If possible, create a contest or find ways to recognize good attendance. If the school or teachers are equipped to text parents, send a text right before school starts again to remind them of special plans.


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