To truly engage students after two years of unprecedented disruption, schools need to look beyond perfect attendance awards and consider broader efforts that address barriers to school attendance, a new resource says.
After interrupted learning and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, those barriers may include family circumstances, a lack of connection to communities and schools, and an erosion of habits like showing up to the bus stop on time.
“Simply emphasizing the impact of days missed on learning does not adequately recognize the overwhelming stresses many students and families are faced with during the pandemic,” says the toolkit released by Attendance Works, a national organization that helps schools tackle student absenteeism.
As Education Week recently reported, long-standing concerns about student absences have swelled into a crisis over the last two years.
Before the pandemic, about 1 in 7 students nationwide—8 million—were chronically absent, data collected by the U.S. Department of Education show. Researchers suggest rates of chronic absenteeism have as much as tripled during the national crisis, with even higher rates for vulnerable populations, like students from low-income households, Attendance Works executive director Hedy Chang told Education Week this month.
The new toolkit aims to help schools respond to the challenges of the moment by focusing on key areas like building routines, increasing engagement, providing access to resources, and supporting learning.
Here are three key takeaways.
Communicate the importance of attendance
Schools should incorporate messages about the value of school attendance into morning announcements, robocalls to families, and regular conversations with parents, the toolkit says.
Those messages should be tailored to the needs of the community. For example, parents of younger children may respond to messages about how school attendance builds confidence, while parents of older children may value the link between attendance and higher graduation rates. Students themselves may respond to appeals to build relationships with classmates in school and to gain access to extracurricular activities through regular attendance.
Create a positive school climate
Students are more likely to attend school when they have positive, supportive relationships, Chang said.
The toolkit suggests approaches like building an “inclusive recess” using strategies from the organization Play Works, which has developed games and activities, such as a modified version of tag, that help all students feel involved in the fun.
Educators should also be sensitive to times in the calendar when attendance wanes, like the “spring slump,” during which students may feel a lack of motivation leading up to the end of the school year, the Attendance Works says.
Use data to target supports
School leaders should use data on chronic absenteeism— the number of students who’ve missed at least 10 percent of school days for any reason— to target supports, the toolkit says.
While all students will need schoolwide efforts to help build positive environments and to stay motivated, data can help educators identify those with the most-severe problems, who may need more-specific support from counselors and social workers.
District-level data can also help administrators determine if certain schools need more resources, the toolkit says.
“The use of your data can identify if there is a ‘positive outlier'—a classroom, school, or program that has been more successful in supporting attendance for that group. What strategies can you adopt?” the document says.