Monday, November 6, 2023

Strategies to Improve School Attendance for Schools and Policy Makers

Source: California YMCA Youth & Government

By Sam Piha 
(Note: Our series of blog posts on chronic school absenteeism
are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool.)

For decades, research has confirmed that participation in quality afterschool programs improves school attendance. This is dramatically increased when afterschool programs, schools and the larger community work together collaboratively. (In Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool, see Appendix 4 for program evaluation examples of how afterschool programs impact school attendance.)

“Research shows that good afterschool programs can not only improve academic performance but also influence school-day attendance, even when most don’t appear to make it an intentional goal. They accomplish this by: 

  • Providing socialization and peer attention in a supervised venue. Re-establishing the link between effort and results—first in a non-school activity. 
  • Engaging students in challenging activities that help them develop persistence, a trait critical to later success in school and life.
  • Providing consistent contact with caring, stable adults.
  • Increasing the sense of belonging at school.” [i]

There are many strategies to address the various causes of chronic absenteeism. There are different strategies for different settings and stakeholders.

“Now educators face a big challenge: Helping students rebuild attendance habits while addressing the barriers that have kept them out of school. Solutions are as varied as the communities schools serve, researchers say. And any attendance strategy must be holistic, touching on everything from family relationships and transportation to anxiety and school climate.” [ii]

Source: www.unsplash.com

School Level Strategies
We know that the school climate and the individual classroom practices can have a large effect on youth absenteeism. Schools can reduce these negative factors through a program improvement process. However, afterschool programs often have little control over school day practices. Afterschool programs can still partner with schools in many ways, including serving on Care Teams or IEP committees.  

“Educators must recognize that external factors are not the only deterrents to attendance. Educators’ role is to address what sits squarely in their control: the conditions for learning. A supportive, culturally responsive school environment is one that fosters strong relationships and draws students into school. Strong conditions for learning can buffer against external factors that affect chronic absence, while weak conditions can heighten chronic absence. All four conditions are critical to improving student outcomes, especially for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.” [iii] 

To reduce chronic absenteeism schools must promote positive “Conditions for Learning”. They can accomplish this through school improvement efforts.

Source: American Institutes for Research

“Educators can also work to remove obstacles to attendance, such as helping a student who has moved obtain a bus pass, adjusting a course schedule for a student who works an early morning shift, or activating social services to provide temporary relief for homelessness. It is wise to intervene strategically (i.e., for groups of students) and early (i.e., at the first sign of disengagement or a few absences).” [iv]

For a collection of articles on absenteeism published in Ed Week, click here.

Policy And Advocacy

While schools and afterschool programs can reduce absenteeism, they need policies that support and do not hinder this work. It is important that you know who the policy making bodies are at the local, state and national levels and how you can learn from them. It is also important to know what actions to take to advocate for favorable policies. 

According to Attendance Works,

“Policy Makers Can:  

  • Adopt a standard definition of chronic absence (missing 10% or more of school), whether the school is in person, virtual or a blend, support daily attendance taking.
  • Ensure the state has a longitudinal student database—ideally beginning in preschool—that tracks attendance for each student using a unique identifier.
  • Make chronic absence a policy priority and direct districts and schools to identify contributing factors to student absenteeism.
  • Promote the adoption of learning opportunity metrics (contact, connectivity, attendance, participation and relationships) in addition to chronic absence.
  • Require that school improvement plans include prevention-oriented strategies to reduce chronic absence and improve attendance.
  • Sponsor legislation that sets a common definition for chronic absence, promotes monitoring and public reporting of data, and requires schools and districts to address high levels of chronic absence.
  • Support data sharing between education, health and social service agencies and other community-based youth and family organizations to target intervention efforts.
  • Ensure adequate and equitable resources so that all students have a substantially similar opportunity to meet performance standards regardless of geographic location, and that state and local funding are sufficient to reasonably expect that all students can meet academic performance standards.
  • Coordinate and secure resources to eliminate the digital divide.
  • Use chronic absence data to identify districts, schools, student populations and communities that need additional resources to remove barriers to attendance and ensure positive conditions of learning.
  • Build public awareness and consensus about addressing chronic absence.” [v]
[Webinar Recording Available]

To view this presentation, click here.

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