‘Attendance Playbook’ seeks to reduce chronic absenteeism

Strategies to curb absenteeism ranging from offering positive greetings at classroom doors and having on-campus laundry facilities to implementing early warning systems and addressing housing insecurity are explored in the report Attendance Playbook: Smart Solutions for Reducing Student Absenteeism Post-Pandemic, published by FutureEd and Attendance Works in May.

Students’ routines and relationships were disrupted during the pandemic, resulting in a rise in chronic absenteeism across the nation with roughly 10 million students — approximately one in every five — missing at least 10 percent of the academic year in 2020–21, according to recent federal data included in the report. That marked a 20 percent increase from pre-pandemic trends.

California’s rate of chronic absenteeism rose from 13 percent prior to the public health crisis to 30 percent.

“The strikingly high rates of student absenteeism post-pandemic are undermining educators’ efforts to help students recover from the pandemic and diluting the massive, $189 billion federal investment in that work,” according to the report.

Academic consequences for students can be devastating and for every week of school a student misses by ninth grade, their chance of graduating high school falls by 20 percent, the report states.

To assist education policymakers and practitioners in responding to the dilemma, the report details more than 24 strategies spanning the three tiers of attendance support.

Each strategy is accompanied by a description and information on the problem it solves as well as related research, resources and highlights from local educational agencies that have benefitted from using the interventions. Research presented in the report is labeled according to the four federally established levels of evidence-of-education research (strong, moderate, promising and emerging).

“The strategies eschew punitive approaches to reducing truancy, which research have found to be largely unsuccessful, and instead promote conditions that strengthen the educational experiences of all students: rigorous instruction that is relevant to students’ lives; a safe, welcoming school climate; and stronger bonds between students and teachers,” the report states.

Tiers of attendance support

Similar to Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports, foundational supports promote positive conditions for all, with each following tier focusing on youth in need of more targeted support. Tier 1 focuses on universal prevention for all students and families, Tier 2 advances to early interventions for students missing 10-19 percent of school days and Tier 3 involves intensive interventions for students missing 20 percent or more of school days.

Foundational support strategies are most successful when underlying factors like physical and emotional health and safety, academic challenge and engagement, a sense of belonging for students and teachers and other conditions that are rooted in relationship building are present. “High levels of chronic absenteeism are an indication that these positive conditions were never established or have deteriorated,” according to the report.

Tier 1 strategies aid in building a positive climate for learning — an important first step to increasing attendance. Examples include the use of incentives, free meals for all, transportation considerations, community schools, school-based health services, restorative discipline practices, offering culturally relevant instruction, having clean and safe school buildings, engaging with families and more.

Tier 2 strategies included in the report are centered around early warning systems, targeted home visits, mentors and tutors, targeted youth engagement, addressing asthma, mental health support and school refusal, students with disabilities and immigration enforcement.

On immigration enforcement, the report references a study of seven California LEAs where increased immigration arrests caused declines in academic achievement, attendance and some school climate and safety measures for Latino students and English learners.

According to the report, Tier 2 interventions can be administered to individuals or groups of students who share similar circumstances. “Schools need to give these students and their families more personal attention to help them understand the importance of coming to school and create a plan to address the barriers they are facing,” the report states.

Tier 3 interventions examined include interagency case management, addressing housing insecurity and rethinking how truancy is addressed.

To accompany the report, Attendance Works released an implementation guide for schools and LEAs.