Excused absences, unexcused absences, suspensions—all contribute to chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more school days per year. While the causes vary, chronic absenteeism is now viewed as a warning sign that something within a school or student’s life needs to be addressed to keep learning on track.
In Lorain (OH) City School Disrict (LCS), we have set a goal for a 50 percent reduction in the chronic absentee rate. Since I joined LCS in August 2017, we’ve begun implementing several strategies to work toward that goal, including several I had success with in my previous district, St. Louis (MO) Public Schools.
Here are nine actions I’ve tried—that you can implement today—to improve student attendance and make school a place that students want to be.
1. Form an attendance review team to catch problems early
An attendance review team is a school-based task force that monitors student attendance, researches students’ needs to identify why they’re chronically absent, and provides strategic intervention to address those needs and improve attendance. To catch problems early, it’s helpful to establish intervention warning flags for specific numbers of tardies, absences, and class removals and outline action steps for the team to take after each flag. For example, a warning flag of three absences would trigger a parent phone call, and five absences would result in a face-to-face meeting with the parent and child.
2. Provide individualized support
If absences continue, the attendance review team will need to provide more individualized support. In this case, the team should create an attendance action plan that outlines interventions and consequences if attendance fails to improve. The team can then monitor the student’s progress to see if attendance goals are being met or if further action is required.
3. Build a positive school culture
When schools have a positive culture, students become more invested in their learning and excited about attending school. When schools don’t, students disengage and are less likely to have healthy attendance. In 2016-17, 1,037 students were suspended from LCS, which meant that more than 15 percent of students missed at least one day of school. We want our scholars to be in school every day, learning from their choices rather than receiving punishment that keeps them out of the classroom. So, we’re revisiting district-wide discipline policies. We’re rolling out training for staff on strategies to improve their school culture. We’re also shifting our focus to interventions that rely on proactive approaches to resolving issues before they result in a suspension, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Social and Emotional Learning.
4. Focus on the most essential behaviors
Indeed, to help students feel safe, welcomed, and supported, it’s critical to teach and nurture the behaviors that create a positive school culture. A new compendium called the Positive School Culture Inventory™ (PSCI) has identified the 19 behaviors that are most essential to creating a positive culture. The PSCI is based on an analysis of more than 152 million student behavior instances collected over seven years by educators in 645 schools. We’re exploring this resource to determine which behaviors we want to emphasize in our schools.