Attendance Recognition

Recognize Good and Improved Attendance

Recognition of good or improved attendance should be part of creating a school-wide culture and accompanied by a deep commitment to ensuring students are engaged in the school community and the classroom once they show up. It is one part of a tiered attendance system.

Keep in mind, the strategy is not to award perfect attendance for a semester or the school year, since the children who struggle will soon be left out. Perfect attendance recognition could encourage students to show up when they are too sick to be in school. Consider how the incentive or contest can be more inclusive for students with special healthcare needs.

Remember the goal: relationships, recognition and incentives are positive ways to help students internalize the value of showing up every day. Recognition is not meant to be a bribe.

Guidelines for Developing Incentives
  • Think through the behaviors you are seeking to cultivate or change and ensure incentives are designed to do so.
  • Consider awards for shorter periods of time so that children and families can feel successful.
  • Reward “behavior,” not people.
  • Include students or families when choosing possible recognition and ask about how they prefer to be recognized so they feel it is meaningful and positive.
  • Recognize families, not just students, especially in elementary school and preschool.
  • Offer incentives (e.g., gas cards, grocery cards, food baskets) that help to address common barriers to getting to school.
  • Build in recognition for teachers and staff who successfully motivate students to show up and engage families.
  • Incentives don’t need to be costly. Consider simple things—recognition through certificates or assemblies, extra recess time, being allowed to wear street clothes vs. a uniform, lunch with your favorite school staff person, even dancing in the hallways.

When working with high school students, provide a certificate or letter demonstrating they have a habit of good attendance, which can be used when applying for jobs. Businesses can donate gift certificates or movie tickets.

  • Sponsor a poster contest:  Let students of all ages convey the importance of attendance.  View sample posters from Baltimore

  • Sponsor a video contest:  Let your middle and high school students create PSAs that the community can use during attendance month and beyond.  Read Tips for Video Contests

  • Create an attendance month competition between classes, grades or local schools to see who can best improve attendance. The rewards can be as simple as an extra recess or as fancy as a raffle ticket for a new car. Businesses can donate gift certificates or movie tickets. Local celebrities and sports stars can visit the winning schools.

  • Incentives are often used by schools as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce chronic absence, yet not all incentive programs are created equal. Researchers Rekha Balu at MDRC and Stacy Ehrlich at NORC at the University of Chicago have developed a framework, with questions educators can consider, to help design incentive programs that work. Read this blog post.

  • Research offers a mixed view of whether rewards and other types of incentives reduce chronic absenteeism. Read about additional research on pages 25 and 26 of the Attendance Playbook, developed by FutureEd in collaboration with Attendance Works.

Updated July 2023