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How we turned around our student tardy numbers

In Wisconsin, a district uses technology smartly to track attendance


Nicolet High School District is located in the southeast region of Wisconsin and serves over 1,000 students from four Milwaukee suburbs and the city of Milwaukee.

Biggest challenge:

Our district wanted to maximize each minute of every class period by getting students to class by the beginning of every period and reducing the time needed to record attendance. We were seeing our student tardy numbers increasing annually, which meant more students were missing valuable class time each year.

Our teachers were losing instructional time due to the manual processes we had in place for recording student attendance, which ate up several minutes into every period. Meanwhile, our office staff was overwhelmed with writing tardy passes, submitting referrals, and calling students down to the office for discipline-related tardies.


When we began searching for solutions to our challenges, we laid out three criteria. First, we wanted a solution that would help us get students to their resource period classrooms in a timely manner to give them the maximum amount of support. Second, we needed something that would give our staff a flexible way of taking attendance, allowing us to account for students’ whereabouts during the resource period. Finally, we wanted to prioritize the accuracy of our attendance data, because we knew there were periodic inconsistencies in attendance taking at the classroom level.

Skyward, our student information system, and School Technology Associates, Inc. (STAi) offered us the perfect solutions. We purchased tardy kiosks from STAi, allowing students to mark themselves tardy and print a hall pass in our main office. We also purchased PASS+ scanners for recording attendance at the classroom level. Skyward then received students’ attendance information and automated processes to assign students detentions and notify families of disciplinary actions through email.

Processes such as writing tardy passes, assigning discipline, pulling students from class (more missed class time), and contacting parents were eliminated, freeing up countless hours each week for our administrators and office staff.

In the first year, our newly automated tardy process yielded a nearly 65-percent decrease in tardies. Knowing students would sometimes forget their ID badges at home, Skyward integrated student IDs on its mobile app, eliminating the need for many students to carry a physical copy.

Finally, we emphasized the use of positive attendance, which we extended to every class period. Now we truly know where our students actually are, not where they are scheduled to be. Now, more than ever, it’s important to account for students’ location each period of the day, both for safety and accountability purposes. In the event of a crisis, we have accurate data, can identify where our students are, and plan accordingly.

Lessons learned:

  • Communicate with your stakeholders as you change processes and give them an outline of the expectations they will be given.
  • Reinforce your expectations, even after your community has adjusted.
  • Focus on the messaging and benefits of the change to create buy in.
  • Celebrate your districts successes, no matter how small.
  • Maintain the momentum of your culture shift; don’t let the excitement and accountability sputter after year one.
  • Remind your staff how big of an impact they make in recapturing instructional minutes each day.

Next steps:

  • We are beginning to use positive attendance data to track participation in our after-school support programs and extracurricular activities.
  • We will use this data to monitor program participation and ensure the students needing support are accessing it. This will give us a better idea of each programs effectiveness.
  • We are starting to gather the information we receive about positive attendance to inform our staff of student participation in volunteer hours for honor societies and extracurricular clubs such as our robotics team.

Next week:

Turnaround Tuesdays will return on May 28 with how a district redefined student success.

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