Attendance Works News

June 24th, 2015

Bright Spot: Tending to school attendance in Las Vegas

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading recently featured a Las Vegas pilot program to reduce chronic absence as a Bright Spot in efforts to increase the number of low-income children reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Las Vegas elementary schools in Nevada’s Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth largest, are being recruited to launch campaigns to reduce the number of students who are chronically absent — missing 10 percent or more of school for any reason — that build on the progress of one local school’s campaign.

“We want to make sure that children are coming to school. By doing that, we can increase their learning outcomes,” says Dr. Lisa Morris Hibbler, a City of Las Vegas official and community lead for the local grade-level reading campaign. Las Vegas is among 30 communities honored by the GLR Campaign as a 2014 Pacesetter for early reading work.

Aided by a University of Nevada-Las Vegas research team and using strategies from GLR Campaign partner Attendance Works, McWilliams Elementary launched a three-month pilot project in 2013-2014 to reduce chronic absence among three student populations with a disproportionately high number of chronically absent students.

The end result: While the percentage of all students who are chronically absent dropped slightly to 12 percent, the makeup shifted. The percentage of chronically absent students who are special needs dropped from 23 to 14; white, from 19 to almost 17; and African-American, from 12 to 10. Latino students — the school’s largest population — went from 65 to 61 percent. Perfect attendance increased by 14 percent.

“It was a huge success that we want to replicate,” says Brian Knudsen, a consultant, who is a former city official and GLR community lead. Knudsen and Hibbler had been visiting 11 other high-needs elementary schools to offer support if they start an attendance campaign. Two schools, to date, have signed on.

Contributing to McWilliams’ success is a new focus on tracking and highlighting data that identify students who are chronically absent, rather than relying, as in the past, on average daily attendance data, which can paint a deceptively rosy picture and conceal the individual students who repeatedly miss school.

It’s a new way of looking at absenteeism in our district,” says Hibbler. “Looking at the data through a different lens made a big difference. The research team helped McWilliams understand its data better so it can use better approaches and target the right students.”

Interventions begun in 2013 include low-cost measures directed at all students from the first tier of Attendance Works’ approach — monitoring attendance, clarifying attendance expectations/goals, engaging students and families, and recognizing good/improved attendance.

Las Vegas’s ability to make progress on attendance and other GLR work has been strengthened by the new governance structure of Las Vegas Downtown Achieves (LVDA), a collective impact effort involving more than 60 community partners working to improve academic outcomes — including grade-level reading — for 12,500 children attending 11 downtown schools.

Using technical assistance provided in 2014 by the GLR Campaign to improve collaboration, LVDA shifted from being largely led by a City of Las Vegas official (first Knudsen and then Hibbler) with many other responsibilities to hiring its first executive director, Michelle Layton, who is focused on LVDA’s mission and helping partners share responsibility for the work.

“One challenge they were facing was, ‘What kind of structure do we need so this effort is sustainable over the long term and doesn’t rest on one person carrying all the weight?’” says Idalia Fernandez of Community Wealth Partners, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that provided the technical assistance. “They recognized that they needed to shift to a different governance structure that is more community owned.”

Poised to become a stand-alone nonprofit, LVDA now has “more structure and viability,” says Knudsen. “With the work we’re doing, there are a lot of factors. Community Wealth Partners helped pull us out of the weeds and make strategic decisions for the initiative’s betterment.”

That initiative includes aiding underperforming schools in several ways, says Hibbler, including “taking the Attendance Works information and helping school officials look at chronic absence.”

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June 22nd, 2015

Chronic Absenteeism: 2 States, 2 Approaches

The Heathy Schools Campaign shared this blog post about state policy approaches to combating chronic absenteeism.

Educators and parents alike agree: Keeping kids in school matters. When kids miss school, their learning suffers. A recent study found that kindergarteners with the highest absenteeism rates were not likely to catch up to their peers’ test scores by 5th grade. Additionally, while the reasons for absenteeism are many, health is a consistent and important factor of keeping kids in schools. A recent survey of students in Texas shows that health-related issues may account for as much as 57 percent of absences; and in Oregon, chronic health issues was considered the single most common issue affecting middle school attendance rates.

This is why developing strategies to reduce student absenteeism is so important to our schools.

However, we also know that too frequently absenteeism becomes a discussion where parents are blamed for not getting their children to school. And too frequently, the discussion around student absenteeism turns to a discipline issue or even worse, becomes a criminal activity.

This past year a number of states have been grappling with the challenge of keeping kids in school. From Texas to California to Indiana, states are trying to set policies to reduce absenteeism. But the approaches that these states have taken, are as varied as the states themselves.

For example, last month, the Michigan legislature passed what it called the“Parental Responsibility Act.” This bill would cut off aid to families in need if a child was chronically absent from school. Remember, low-income communities already bear the burden of health disparities that cause higher rates of school absences. Asthma rates in Detroit hover near 30 percent and are even higher in low-income communities of color. In many cases, students are missing multiple days of school due to chronic diseases, lack of access to healthcare or even family health issues. Cutting off benefits to these children would do nothing to address the problem, while potentially causing devastating harm to these families.

As the Michigan League for Public Policy said, “This bill won’t get kids to school. However, it is certain to push more kids deeper into poverty, making it even more difficult to get to school.”

We agree. Keeping kids in school shouldn’t be punitive. Rather, we believe that we need look to the underlying reasons why kids are missing school, and address these issues.

So here in Illinois, Healthy Schools Campaign worked with advocates and legislators to pass a Chronic Absenteeism Commission. This bill is not about blaming parents, rather it is about understanding and addressing the underlying causes of why students are absent. When signed, this law would establish an Attendance Commission that “…shall identify strategies, mechanisms, and approaches to help parents, educators, principals, superintendents, and the State Board of Education address and prevent chronic absenteeism.”

Of course this is only an early step in a long approach to developing strategies to address chronic absenteeism. But if half or more of missed school days are due to health-related issues, we believe that we need to approach our education policy in a way that supports student health and wellness. This means we need a system that identifies students at greatest risk for dropping out and provides assistance with their specific barriers. It could mean increasing access to counseling services, asthma management plans, or even helping a student get a warm coat in the winter. These are the types of interventions that can do what we all want — keep kids healthier and in school.

Breaking the cycle of chronic absenteeism is not an small or insignificant challenge, but it is one that requires a thoughtful approach, rather than a reactive, punitive measure.

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June 17th, 2015

Attendance, Health to be Featured in 2016 All-America City Awards

The National Civic League is seeking applications for its 2016 All-America City Awards from communities that are using community-wide health and education strategies that enable all children to succeed in school and in life. School attendance and healthy school projects are particularly welcome and in alignment with collaborating partners, Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign.  NCL also welcome other projects that benefit all children, particularly at-risk children, using education and/or healthy community strategies.  For more information, email aac@ncl.org or call 303-571-4343.

NCL announced the 2016 focus at a weekend conference at which 10 cities received the 2015 award. Annually, 10 communities are recognized as All-America Cities for their collaboration, community engagement, inclusiveness and innovation.  About 500 have obtained this recognition over the past 66 years, some have won the award five or six times.

“The All-America City award is not a beauty contest.  It is given to communities that work together to address complex local issues,” said NCL’s President Gloria Rubio-Cortes.  “Many communities that win this award see economic and civic benefits, however it is best said that participants fall in love with their communities, again, and commit to a greater vision and increased engagement.”

Here’s a timetable for the award process:

  • September 2015-February 2016: Monthly conference calls on spotlight and AAC process
  • November 4, 2015: Submit Letter of Intent to Apply (Letter of Intent is not required, however, save $100 on your application fee when you submit a Letter of Intent to Apply by November 4, 2015!)
  • March 9, 2016: Submit Application
  • April 2016: Finalists Announced. Finalist community delegations will be invited to Denver to present.
  • June 2016: Peer-Learning Workshops & Awards Presentation/Competition in Denver, Colorado

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