Districts Pivot Their Strategies to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism During Distance Learning

Erin Simon had huge objectives for this faculty yr. The director of scholar help providers for Long Beach Unified School District needed to scale back the variety of native college students who had been chronically absent, a time period that refers to these who miss 15 or more school days of the educational yr.

This has been a purpose of Simon’s since she joined Long Beach Unified in fall 2013. But it has confirmed elusive. Her district’s power absenteeism charges have truly elevated, from 13.3 percent (about 10,000 college students) within the 2017-2018 faculty yr, to 15.1 percent (about 11,000 college students) in 2018-2019.

By comparability, the state of California reported a 12 percent chronic absenteeism rate amongst college students in 2018-2019, representing 676,000 college students.

Simon was assured that her staff’s efforts would assist. In the early months of 2020, her staff expanded an attendance marketing campaign referred to as “All In,” from 4 to 25 faculties throughout the district, which is house to 85 public faculties in complete. The staff established a partnership with an area housing challenge the place a few of their chronically absent college students reside and coordinated attendance outreach actions, which included workshops to teach lecturers, employees and guardians on the results of lacking faculty.

Members of the Long Beach Unified School District “All In” staff conduct coaching on constructing a tradition of attendance and brainstorming obstacles to entry (Credit: Erin Simon).

The district additionally opened 26 Family Resource Centers, the place households of enrolled college students can obtain health-related providers from faculty counselors and psychologists in addition to help associated to parenting, habits administration, disaster intervention, suicide prevention and attendance points.

“We encourage students to attend every second of every day,” says Simon. “It’s crucial to academic achievement.”

On March 16, the district closed schools to assist comprise the outbreak of COVID-19. Distance studying started March 23.

Simon and the remainder of the district turned their focus to food security, web connectivity for households in want and on-line suicide prevention assessments. But Long Beach Unified—like different faculties, districts and the organizations they accomplice with to fight power absenteeism interviewed by EdSurge—haven’t given up on efforts to assist college students attend faculty, even with out a bodily faculty to attend.

Understanding Chronic Absenteeism

The U.S. Department of Education reported that for the 2015-2016 faculty yr, more than 7 million students—or 16 % of all college students—and 20 % of highschool college students are chronically absent.

Research reveals that attendance is essential to educational success, so stopping absenteeism is important. Reading and math expertise are hindered for college students who’re chronically absent as early as kindergarten. In elementary faculty, frequent absences are linked to a better probability of dropout—even if attendance improves over time.

In addition to inflicting studying gaps, absenteeism additionally has finances implications. In seven states, together with California, faculty districts are funded by property taxes or state allocations primarily based on faculty attendance. Districts in communities that don’t generate excessive property taxes look to attendance revenues from the state.

To deal with absenteeism, faculty directors have turned to outdoors teams to assist implement data-informed intervention and outreach methods.

Attendance Works, headquartered in San Francisco, has labored with greater than 24 faculty districts—like Long Beach—throughout 32 states, and facilitates a peer studying community involving greater than 35 states.

In 2019, Attendance Works started to educate Long Beach’s “All In” employees to make use of the group’s evidence-based Teaching Attendance Curriculum to strengthen prevention and intervention methods, which embrace making a welcoming atmosphere, utilizing efficient messaging and recognizing good and improved attendance. The group additionally helped “All In” employees design three peer studying community periods for the 25 “All In” faculties.

Attendance Works generates about half of its income from foundations. The the rest comes from service charges that quantity to $1,800 per day. Its contract with Long Beach Unified for the 2019-2020 faculty yr is for $21,110.

Hedy Chang, govt director and founding father of Attendance Works, says that when the brand new faculty yr resumes, faculty officers might effectively discover extra college students in danger for power absenteeism on account of financial or housing instability. Parents might have misplaced their jobs, college students might have to work to help the household, relations might have died on account of COVID-19. And college students could also be unwilling to return to highschool in particular person if they’ve a well being situation or reside with somebody who’s extra weak to the virus.

Identifying college students prone to absenteeism requires a mixture of ways. For instance, gathering data corresponding to which college students lack web connectivity, who was chronically absent previous to COVID-19 and understanding whether or not a scholar comes from a low-income household, has a incapacity, is concerned in foster care or is homeless, will help employees higher acknowledge every scholar’s circumstance and develop a more practical help system.

Chang says it is crucial for faculties to test that they’ve up to date contact data for college students and households, in order that employees can attain out and assist college students and guardians navigate what will probably be a radically completely different faculty yr. It can be essential to make sure that college students have units to help digital class, coursework and communication.

Her group recommends that attendance is taken for each in-person and digital educational expertise. When faculties resume in-person studying, or for these taking a hybrid strategy, Chang recommends that faculties convene a staff of social-emotional and well being help employees to succeed in out and establish college students who misplaced out on vital studying alternatives since faculties switched to distant studying. From there, they will develop and implement outreach, engagement and help methods for these college students and households.

Because of COVID-19, the federal authorities has waived participation rate as an Academic Achievement indicator for one yr, however addressing absenteeism continues to be high of thoughts for a lot of directors.

Take, for instance, the rising curiosity in Attendance Works’ providers. Its webinars often host about 500 attendees however that quantity has grown for the reason that pandemic outbreak. About 4,600 individuals confirmed up for a latest webinar, Chang says.

Postcards Prove a Point

On the opposite aspect of the nation, one other effort, housed at Harvard University, can be serving to districts deal with power absenteeism. Started in 2015, the Proving Ground program helps faculty districts leverage information to design, plan, implement and check interventions to enhance studying outcomes. The program has 59 faculty district companions, most of them in New York and Ohio.

One of its first profitable intervention applications concerned weekly postcards despatched house to households of scholars in early grades as absences occurred. The program lasted over the course of 13 weeks throughout the 2018-2019 faculty yr and included 5,602 college students from two unnamed districts. Each card contained a handwritten message together with a rely of cumulative days missed, data on the teachings missed at school that day, and a information to assist dad and mom perceive how the absences impacted their baby’s educational progress. Researchers discovered that this strategy lowered scholar absences by an estimated 7.9 percent.

Sample postcards (Source: Proving Ground)

In fall 2020, this system will launch intervention efforts with all of its accomplice faculties. Interventions will embrace household engagement together with outreach and follow-up designed to foster bi-directional communication between faculty and caretaker and allow downside fixing to handle causes for absenteeism, restorative circles in elementary grades and intensive case administration for high-absence college students.

Due to COVID-19, Proving Ground goals to help its accomplice faculties by a newly launched app that implies methods primarily based on information shared with Proving Ground. The app will assist districts enhance upon chosen methods over time and permit districts to attach and share data with one another.

For one district that offered Proving Ground with information, it discovered that college students had been much less prone to attend faculty nearly than they had been to attend in particular person. Students who had been chronically absent earlier than COVID-19 had been unlikely to attend faculty nearly in any respect.

“We don’t know what attendance is going to look like” within the fall Hersh says. “The key, if attendance cannot be measured in the same way, will be replacing it with something with similar utility. Attendance is an incredibly valuable tool for identifying students in need of additional support early. Failing to replace it would make it extremely hard for districts to support students, especially if they cannot see them in person every day.”

City Year Shifts Attendance Intervention Strategy

Like Simon, the scholar help providers director at Long Beach Unified, Cory Jones, principal of Rosa Parks Okay-8 School in Sacramento, Calif., was preventing a dropping battle to scale back power absenteeism at his faculty. During the 2018-2019 faculty yr, the power absenteeism price at Rosa Parks reached 26.5 percent (about 240 college students)—up from 17.2 percent (about 150 college students) % throughout the 2016-2017 faculty yr.

Before COVID-19, Jones noticed enchancment in attendance with assist from the native chapter of City Year, an schooling nonprofit that’s a part of the AmeriCorps nationwide service community, which has roughly 350 accomplice faculties and 40,000 college students it interacts with immediately by one-on-one and group settings.

City Year Sacramento members participated at school attendance groups, evaluated information developments, recognized college students in want of help and decided acceptable interventions. Efforts included attendance rallies, incentives and educating college students in regards to the penalties of lacking faculty, and interesting those that wanted encouragement and help.

Students who efficiently demonstrated sustained enchancment of their attendance obtained attendance commencement certificates and pins. On one event, college students who got here to highschool on a specific day entered a raffle for the possibility to pie a City Year Sacramento member or Jones within the face.

Research shows that if a child feels a personal connection at school, it raises their chances at school exponentially,” says Jones.

Coinciding with these efforts, Sacramento Rapid Transit offered all college students within the metropolis with legitimate scholar IDs free bus rides to assist overcome transportation obstacles. City Year Sacramento members helped college students purchase bus passes by the initiative in addition to alarm clocks.

From Jan. 6 to Feb. 24, early information confirmed about 60 % of scholars elevated their common every day attendance.

Then, Sacramento City Unified School District closed schools on March 16. “That pretty much sidelined the efforts we were making,” says Jones. “Now that face-to-face interaction, the most powerful part of it, was eliminated.”

As faculties transitioned to distance studying, City Year Sacramento turned its focus to household engagement. Members made about 600 calls to folks and college students to test in on well-being, ask about obstacles to studying and supply technical help on instruments like Google Classrooms and Zoom. They additionally helped translate district communications into different languages. The checklist of scholars contacted was primarily based on those that didn’t take part in on-line studying actions.

City Year Sacramento additionally created about 50 videos and social media posts to interact college students. Video topics ranged from studying tales to well being to bop to origami. Members participated in Google Classrooms, managing chat home windows, creating actions and warm-ups and conducting small group breakout periods for homework and educational help.

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Healthy Habits at Home video from the City Year Rosa Parks staff (Source: City Year Sacramento)

“We will build off of these initial distance learning initiatives for the upcoming school year and be able to provide hybrid and distance learning support,” says Jeff Owen, vice chairman and govt director for City Year Sacramento.

The nationwide City Year group does have a historical past of success with attendance. During the 2017-2018 academic year, college students in grades six to 9 coached by City Year AmeriCorps members improved their attendance by at the least 2 proportion factors, which interprets to greater than three extra days at school or greater than 5,900 collective extra days of instruction.

A latest study from Johns Hopkins University confirmed that the extra time a scholar spends working with a City Year AmeriCorps member, the higher their attendance and educational outcomes. Students who spent the median period of time with an AmeriCorps member—16 hours in math or English and three hours for behavioral help—had been 42 % much less prone to fall off monitor in English, a 3rd much less prone to fall behind in math and 41 % much less prone to fall behind in attendance. In addition, college students furthest behind in attendance, grades, check scores or social-emotional expertise noticed the best positive aspects with one-on-one help from a City Year member.

City Year providers can value about $200 per scholar per yr for a wide range of school-wide and individualized helps, in keeping with Owen. Schools nationwide often cowl about 25 % of the full value to deploy the staff of City Year members in faculties. About 50 % comes from contributions and grants from foundations, firms and people and one other 25 % is funded by the federal authorities by AmeriCorps.

Jones hopes that Rosa Parks and City Year Sacramento can proceed among the new efforts and tasks as soon as the college returns to in-person studying or a hybrid mannequin.

“This is a time to stretch and learn new things,” he says. “These are things we may follow up on when we return to school.”

Back in Long Beach, the tip of the college yr noticed Simon and her colleagues cross referencing power absenteeism lists to ensure households obtained the help they wanted. They assisted households with discovering non permanent shelters and neighborhood assets and offered wellness checks on the employees. “If the staff is not well, they’re not going to serve the students well,” Simon says.

Long Beach will start its school year online only, probably shifting to in particular person studying later within the yr. Simon and her staff have been speaking to households by cellphone, not simply to share the significance of attendance, however to empathize with their circumstances.

The focus for her staff is on participation over attendance. Once circumstances are safer, district employees plan to go to college students’ properties. Family Resource Center employees present telecounseling to college students throughout summer time faculty and digital guardian workshops on subjects corresponding to nervousness and grief.

“If you didn’t build a relationship before COVID-19, you’re not going to hear from those families,” Simon says. “If they trust you, they’ll accept your calls on a more consistent basis. People see that more so now.”

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