A Tulsa nonprofit has reduced the number of chronically absent students by 25 percent in its Head Start and early learning programs by using data to help programs monitor what is happening overall with attendance and which students and families needed intervention.

The Community Action Project Tulsa County, which serves about 2,000 students from low-income families, took a deep dive into attendance in 2009 and found that 64 percent of the students were missing 10 percent of school days. The research also showed that students who attended more regularly demonstrated more growth in literacy skills.

To improve attendance, providers began intensive outreach to parents, emphasizing the importance of attendance at initial enrollment, program orientation, and in home visits as well as through the creation of attendance plans for children missing too much school.

The programs ask parents to ensure that children attend at least 85 percent of the time. The interventions take different forms, said Cecilia Robinson, CAP’s senior director of early childhood programs on a recent Attendance Works webinar. “Sometimes it’s an alarm clock, sometimes it’s a bus pass. Sometimes, it’s a matter of ‘I didn’t know that’s what you meant by 85 percent,’” Robinson said.

CAP providers draw up Attendance Improvement Action Plans for children who are miss school 20 percent of the time, who miss more than 10 days in a single month, or who consistently arrives more than 15 minutes late. Providers monitor the students’ progress to make sure attendance is improving. They also post attendance averages at the 13 sites, or even on the classroom doors, to give instructors and parents some ownership in the issue, Robinson said.

CAP’s efforts, recently featured in the New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch blog, has produced results: 52 percent of students attended school 90 percent of the time in the 2010-11 school year, compared to 36 percent the previous year. In the same year, providers saw the percentage of chronically absent students dropped from 64 percent to 48 percent.

For more on Tulsa’s efforts, listen to Robinson and researcher Cindy Decker on our February webinar, “Right from the Beginning: Early Childhood Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absence”: video or slides.

Addressing Chronic Absenteeism in Early Childhood Education – Tulsa Area Community School Initiative from Coalition for Community Schools on Vimeo.