Early Matters: District and Site Level Practices

Data-Informed Teams

Addressing chronic absence requires a team approach. Having a team ensures access to the insights and resources needed to design and implement meaningful activities and interventions. Districts and schools should have teams charged with securing, analyzing and sharing chronic absence data and putting in place needed interventions starting in kindergarten.

The team can help ensure that high levels of chronic absence, starting with our youngest learners, are noticed and acted upon before challenges are even more difficult and costly to rectify.
Keep in mind that high levels of kindergarten chronic absence are easily masked by overall rates of chronic absence for an elementary school given the typically lower levels of chronic absence in grades two through five.

Monitoring data should start early. Begin within the first month of school and continue throughout the year. Research has shown that students who miss two days each month, starting with the beginning of the first month of school, are more likely to be chronically absent by the end of the school year.
The team can use data to target efforts build positive, caring relationships that support the climate for identifying and addressing any barriers to attendance and enable outreach to families with students at risk for chronic absence.

Teams can use chronic absence data, especially when broken down by school, grade, classroom, subpopulation or neighborhood, to detect barriers requiring programmatic or systemic solutions. If a large proportion of a particular student group is affected by chronic absence, it could reflect systemic barriers inside of schools (such as bullying, lack of family engagement, staffing challenges, problematic disciplinary practices, lack of full-day kindergarten) or in the community (such as poor access to health, mental health or dental care or transportation; unsafe neighborhoods; or unstable housing).

Teams can also use data to identify practices worth celebrating and/or replicating. If a school, preschool or classroom has low levels of chronic absence, this could indicate that educators are implementing effective strategies to address chronic absence. If further assessment shows this is true, these “bright spot” examples can inform and inspire adoption of effective approaches for improving attendance.

Ideas and Resources

Establish a team. Depending on local conditions, an existing team could assume these responsibilities or a new team could be formed. District level teams assume greater responsibility for ensuring access to data in a timely manner, equipping principals to lead the work and forging partnerships to address resource gaps. School teams bear more responsibility for collecting accurate data and for outreach to students and families. Find our guidance on developing district and school teams.

Produce and analyze timely data on attendance and chronic early absence. Districts are responsible for ensuring that key school staff have easy and timely access to chronic absence and attendance data reports, overall and disaggregated.

Keep in mind that high levels of kindergarten chronic absence are easily masked by overall rates of chronic absence for an elementary school given the typically lower levels in grades two through five. Most Student Information Systems (SIS) can be used to produce such reports. If not, consider using Attendance Works’ free data tools for districts here.

  • District teams should review data at least monthly to identify which schools or student populations might need more support and to identify schools engaged in successful practice.
  • School teams, ideally, would review data biweekly to identify which students might need support and also notice if multiple students from the same family are struggling with attendance. School-level teams can examine trends by teachers in order to identify teachers requiring extra support or teachers who might offer advice to peers given their comparably better attendance data.

If possible, find out about children’s experiences prior to kindergarten. Ask local preschool and Head Start programs to share their data. Some early child-care data systems such as COPA, Child Plus and MyHeadStart.com already have chronic absence reports. Lack of participation in preschool and chronic absence during preschool can help elementary administrators and educators anticipate a need for attendance-related support.

Your SIS can be used to produce reports by grade level, starting with kindergarten reports. If not, consider using Attendance Works’ free Preschool Attendance Tracking Tool (PATT). Register here for PATT.

Engage in early outreach. The best predictors of chronic absence in kindergarten are the lack of participation in any preschool program prior to going to kindergarten, chronic absence in preschool or missing 10% of days enrolled once the school year begins. Monitoring and acting on such data, starting in kindergarten, is especially important for school and district teams given that this is a crucial year for fostering the habit of attendance every day.

When chronic absences occur, school teachers should ensure someone reaches out to the family to let the family know the child was missed and share something positive about them. Staff, especially teachers, should find out how things are going from their perspective, listen to family concerns and offer support.

Examine the demographics of the students without preschool experience as well as those who are chronically absent in kindergarten. What languages do these families speak? What is their ethnicity? Where do they live? Districts and schools can use such information to ensure outreach is culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Ideally districts make such data available to schools over the summer and then throughout the school year so school teams can take action. Districts should also use this data to identify which schools might need extra support, especially from community partners, given high levels of chronic absence or the lack of staff with the needed language skills or cultural insights.

Find out from families about the causes and solutions. While quantitative data helps to identify who needs most support, the key to developing effective solutions is finding out from families why students are missing too much school and what would help to improve attendance. As school staff or community partners reach out to families, it is extremely helpful if they can collect qualitative information about common barriers and challenges that can then be used within and across schools to identify gaps in available resources and services.

In addition, districts and schools could use strategies like empathy interviews, parent cafes, parent focus groups or parent surveys to hear from parents about common barriers and potential solutions. Find several of these qualitative data tools.

Engage in continuous improvement. Because attendance data is collected daily, it is an excellent source of ongoing feedback. Districts and schools can use this data over time to examine whether attendance is improving, what strategies are effective or need tweaking and for whom chronic absence increasing.

Once trends are detected, teams can talk with school staff, community partners and families to uncover the stories that can help explain the changes and determine whether changes are needed to improve results.

Explore Early Matters: Cultivating Engagement and Attendance In Kindergarten

Production of Early Matters: Cultivating Engagement and Attendance in Kindergarten was made possible by the generous support of the Heising Simons Foundation.