October 21st, 2010
San Diego County School Improves Attendance with Calendar, Incentives
We’re always excited to hear about school districts that are using chronic absence data strategically to improve attendance. Today, we look at the Julian Union School District in San Diego County. One look at the attendance analysis told district leaders they had a problem: 37 percent of students at the district’s only elementary school were missing too much school in the 2007-2008 academic year. Now, that figure is below 5 percent. At the same time, test scores rose.
The first step to turning around this trend was looking at the data produced by the San Diego Children’s Initiative which collected statistics from Julian to examine poor attendance in its countywide Report Card on Children and Families . The report card examines how many students miss 5 percent of school days, or about nine days a year. Because they want to promote prevention, the Children’s Initiative sets a more stringent definition of poor attendance.
The Children’s Initiative then worked with the superintendent and the school principal to develop an action plan based on focus groups with school staff and parents. They identified several barriers to good attendance, including transportation hassles with half-day kindergarten, vacation schedules that didn’t align with the high school district’s calendar and the extended vacations traditionally taken by Latino families at Christmas. To address these they:
• Synchronized the elementary school calendar with the high school district so families did not miss school because their children had different vacation days.
• Extended the winter break to three weeks to accommodate the needs of the Latino families.
• Reinstated an incentive program for on-time attendance that takes advantage of the motivation created by interclass competition. The school promised a pizza party to the first class with enough days of perfect attendance to spell out the words “Perfect Punctuality.”
• Provided information on attendance as a prominent component of conversations and meetings with parents as well as the school newsletter. A large wooden sign indicating whether attendance is improving greets everyone who enters the school.
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