This case study was originally published in Attending School Every Day: Taking Action, Making Progress in Oakland Schools in September 2014.

Principal Cliff Hong knew that too many students missed class at his middle school, but it was not until he analyzed the data that he saw the picture clearly. Every day, 50 to 60 Roosevelt Middle School students were absent and as many as 15% of students were missing nearly a month of school every year. Within a year, however, Hong cut his absentee rate in half and saw his school’s standardized test scores climb by 30 scale points.

How did he do it?

A data-driven focus on attendance, engagement from the full community, and support from school district leadership were the keys to his success. His story is part of a growing national narrative of schools that are improving student achievement by reducing chronic absenteeism.

Hong managed to work with the community, his feeder schools, and the school district as he turned around chronic
absence rates at Roosevelt Middle School from 15% in 2010–11 to 8% in 2011–12. There have been several positive results of this work. Most importantly, students are learning more because of the increased time in school. Academic achievement, as measured by state standardized tests, rose 30 points last year, the highest API the school had had in 14 years, and the most improved of any Oakland Unified School District middle school.

Some of the tools Roosevelt used include:

  • Giving certificates to students with good attendance and improved attendance and recognizing them in assemblies.
  • Organizing an “attendance team” with various staff members. Theirs included an attendance clerk, a family liaison, a school nurse, a graduate student intern, and the school principal.
  • Setting goals. Roosevelt’s goal was to have an average of 95% attendance overall and no chronic absence and to have similar rates of attendance among their three largest ethnic groups (African-American, Asian Pacifica Islander and Latino).
  • Meeting every two weeks to look at the cases of chronically absent students and identifying the reasons for the absences as well as beginning to develop a picture of individuals and groups. For example, at Roosevelt, some students had transportation issues, others had illnesses they previously did not know about, etc.
  • Strategically assigning one team member to follow up on students and their families. For example, Roosevelt’s nurse  took on students whose absences were primarily health related. Team members would speak with students and call families.
  • Having family conferences. For students whose attendance rates did not improve, the attendance clerk and principal met face to face with students and a parent/guardian to lay out expectations and sign an improvement plan.