Tell Our Story: Read to Be OKC Attendance Initiative August 2013
The Read to Be OKC Attendance workgroup, led by a retired principal, developed a plan to improve school attendance based on best practice information provided by AttendanceWorks and discussions with district personnel. The plan was simple yet required a huge commitment from participating school districts. Districts were asked to (1) accurately report attendance data, (2) provide baseline and quarterly data, (3) call the student’s home each time the student was absent, and (4) recognize students and staff with perfect attendance and students with improved attendance quarterly. The Attendance workgroup members (retired principal/current community volunteer, Smart Start Central Oklahoma staff and board member, YMCA and Oklahoma City Chamber representatives, three school districts, and community volunteers) decided it was best to ask for district volunteers.
The Oklahoma City Public School District was able and willing to provide the needed data to identify baselines for attendance by school, grade and class and agreed to participate in the initiative. The district identified ten target schools to participate and soon Every Child Counts Every Day took on new meaning for principals, their staffs, their students and their families. The Read to Be OKC Attendance workgroup was responsible for providing incentives for the target schools and the district research team agreed to provide additional technical assistance to staff to enter data accurately and run daily reports. The district also provided quarterly reports used by principals to guide action and used by the workgroup to guide incentive distribution.
The team of principals, district executive directors, research staff, and attendance workgroup members met three times during the 2012-13 school year to celebrate success and discuss struggles, needs and best practices. At the year-end meeting, a discussion was facilitated to better understand the experience, future needs and future plans. Below is a description of our experience.
Pre-arrange data collection start and end points and place on calendar
Place attendance goals and data on RTI and staff meeting agendas
Post data on walls and discuss at staff meetings
Use all human resources in the building to promote and reinforce attendance (individual and family counseling, mentors, community service providers)
Meet the parent at the door when late or leaving early and discussing situation
Principal and teachers call parents when child is absent with no call-in or repeatedly tardy, early out, or absences
Students with three or more tardies in one week receive wake-up calls the following week
Teachers call parents of students that are absent DAILY
Identify root cause of tardies and seek support for the family
Recognize families that have improved attendance
What have we accomplished?
Data collection in all target schools has improved
Awareness of teacher attendance was heightened
Awareness of the importance of attendance has been increased
Schools have increased use of attendance data to guide action
District marketing department engaged and developed a public awareness campaign to promote first day attendance (see HERE! First Day Every Day Attendance Campaign for Oklahoma City Public Schools)
What barriers have proven most challenging?
Accurate attendance data – person assigned in each building needed
Clear, effective communication with parents (registration, school hours, attendance policies)
Spreading the word effectively throughout the community
What were our biggest surprises?
Sharing data with teachers and staff is very powerful, gave us a common language, showcased teachers with high attendance rates
Substitute teachers need attendance documentation training
Our community doesn’t value school attendance the way we assumed it was valued
Teachers talking with parents about the importance of their child’s attendance and expectations for attendance can be very powerful
A board member volunteered to find bicycles for every elementary school in the district
What were unexpected benefits?
Teachers appreciate the attendance recognition for themselves and their students
Principals took ownership of the initiative and created special ways to recognize students with perfect attendance (i.e. lunch with the principal, certificates, class parties, etc.)
What were unexpected costs?
Manpower is needed to improve attendance and schools are short on manpower
Some school personnel need training for attendance data entry and tracking
What did we learn?
The project has uncovered the complexity of student attendance both from an institutional perspective and from a family perspective. The reasons a student is absent, tardy or leaves school early is often out of the hands of the district. However, it has become clear that a basic awareness of the specific school dates and hours, the district policy as related to the law of school attendance and a consistent message of the importance of daily attendance can impact attendance habits. Collecting and analyzing accurate attendance data and using it to drive attendance improvement is time-consuming and labor intense. But when an elementary school consistently manages data collection and monitoring and implements best practice strategies, attendance improves. There is not one best practice strategy that reaches everyone and there are additional barriers that families face that impede building and maintaining good school attendance habits.
What was our biggest take away?
One principal identified a parent need (working parents needed to drop students off at 7:30 but school didn’t open until 7:50) and began opening school earlier which directly impacted attendance. The principal’s action demonstrated (1) the importance of understanding your school community, (2) the importance of communication between home and school, (3) the way school and home can work together for student success, and (4) the importance of thinking outside the box.