Qualitative Data

The first step in detecting which schools, grades and student groups are most affected by chronic absence is a review of quantitative data. Next, qualitative tools can shed light on the factors affecting whether students show up to school. Developing solutions requires finding out, especially from students and families, the barriers they face, whether those are occurring in the community or within schools, and what helps to motivate being in school.

Student and family perspectives matter. Students and families can offer important knowledge and information, (i.e., assets, insights into culture, and an understanding of attendance barriers), that key decision makers might not otherwise know. Addressing the challenges students and families experience requires considering their specific realities. Understanding when many students and families experience similar challenges allows for the creation of scalable solutions. Tapping into student and family voices helps ensure that the engagement strategies are inclusive of students’ and families' cultural norms.

Here are a few of the qualitative tools that schools, districts and community partners have found helpful.

  • Empathy Interviews: These involve targeted, one-on-one conversations with a small sample of people (i.e. students or parents/caregivers) to learn from their lived experience. See this interview template from the HTH Graduate School of Education.

  • 2 X 10: This simple relationship and trust building strategy involves spending two minutes per day for 10 days in a row talking with a student about anything she or he wants to talk about. See this guidance from Turn Around for Children.

  • Student Focus Groups: Focus groups are moderated discussions held with a small number of students that help to explore experiences and perspectives. See this Sample Attendance Focus Group Protocol doc.

  • Attendance Café: This strategy involves using a welcoming café like setting to engage parents in discussions about attendance. Participants can learn from each other as they share common experiences and successes. Find the guidance here.

  • Student Surveys: Surveys can be used to ask a large number of students about reasons behind their absences. See this survey for PreK Head Start Students and this survey for secondary students developed by the University of Florida.

Gathering information on the Root Causes for Absence

If you aren’t sure how to start, consider the following approach.

  1. Review the Root Causes for Absence. Go through the list of Barriers, Aversion, Disengagement or Misconceptions and highlight the ones your team believes affect the students and families in your school. (The Root Causes for Absence image can be printed in black and white.)
  2. Select one or more methods from the list above for learning about what affects attendance.
  3. Listen carefully for reasons why students attend or do not attend school.
  4. After talking with students or families, write down what you learned about why students attend school.
  5. Then summarize what you learned about why they don’t attend by going through the list of Barriers, Aversion, Disengagement or Misconceptions and circling the ones that you heard most frequently.
  6. Review the list to see if there are any significant factors that are not on the list.