AttendaNCe Counts: Monitoring Data to Boost Attendance

When it comes to making sure young children are in school every day, data matters.

Kimberlee Stone, principal of C.C. Wright Elementary in Wilkes County, has made student attendance a priority. Data drives the practices her team employs to reduce chronic absence. She starts with a daily report from NC PowerSchool on every child who was absent that day.

School staff and community-based organizations supporting regular attendance need accurate data on how many and which students are absent. They need analysis of that data to calculate chronic absence rates and identify children and families who need additional supports. Good data can also drive practice — understanding the root causes of their chronic absence from children and families can inform what interventions are implemented and how.

Monitoring attendance data and practice is one of five Attendance Works best practices to help schools and communities develop targeted strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism. This is the second in a series of monthly perspectives to highlight connections between those five best practices and a recent report published by the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) in partnership with EdNC.org — AttendaNCe Counts: How Schools and Local Communities are Reducing Chronic Absence in North Carolina. The series aims to support local schools and community organizations in identifying where they need support and developing the interventions that are most appropriate to their student populations and community needs.

Check out last month’s post on engaging students and families here.

School and community perspectives

The report surveyed 1,500 North Carolina parents, preschool staff, elementary school staff, volunteers, and community providers who shared their impressions of their local attendance policies and practices. Respondents rated their schools’ policies and practices (strength, OK for now, could be better, or urgent gap) on two questions related to monitoring attendance data and practice:

  1. Accurate Data: The principal ensures that teachers and school staff take attendance accurately and that it is entered daily into the district data system.
  2. Attendance Team: Our attendance team, led by an administrator, meets at least every two weeks to: (a) monitor attendance data and trends; (b) coordinate the school’s attendance strategy; (c) examine the reasons for absences using quantitative and qualitative data; and (d) ensure chronically absent students receive needed supports.

Note:  Parents and school volunteers were not asked about these two items, since they are about internal school processes where parents and volunteers are not likely to be involved.

Accurate data

Overall, respondents feel that their schools collect accurate attendance data. In fact, this item received the highest rating out of all 10 items in the survey.

  • Strength or OK for now: 94% of respondents
  • Could be better or urgent gap: 4% of respondents
  • I don’t know: 2% of respondents

Disaggregated results are shared below. Where percentages do not add to 100%, a small percentage of respondents answered “I don’t know.”

By role

Elementary school principals, vice principals, teachers, and early education teachers and administrators nearly all feel that their schools are doing a good job collecting accurate attendance data. Other staff at elementary schools largely agree.

Staff working directly on attendance in the schools, however, are more likely to say that this is an urgent gap (6% of them report that) and less likely to say it is a strength. Staff of community-based organizations working in the schools do not feel they have the knowledge to answer this question — one-third of them report that they do not know.

 

Head Start, NC PreK, preschool teacher or administrator

Elem. school principal/vice-principal

Elem. school teacher

Other staff at elem. school

Attendance staff at elem. school

Strength/Ok for now

97%

97%

95%

92%

79%

Could be better/Urgent gap

1%

3%

4%

6%

18%

By urban vs. rural

There is a slight difference by geography. Respondents from rural schools are more likely to say their schools are doing a good job collecting accurate attendance data than respondents from urban and suburban schools.

 

Urban

Suburban

Rural

Strength/OK for now

90%

92%

97%

Could be better/Urgent gap

8%

4%

2%

By race

Black and white respondents agree on this item. There were not sufficient sample sizes for respondents of other races to make any further analyses by race.

 

Black

White

Strength/OK for now

94%

94%

Could be better/Urgent gap

3%

4%

Attendance Team

While collecting accurate attendance data scored highest of the 10 survey items, having an attendance team that meets regularly and follows up to reduce chronic absence is the item scored lowest by respondents overall. Only one-fourth of respondents feel that this is a strength for their schools, and 12% feel it is an urgent gap. Another one-fourth of respondents report that they do not know enough about it to answer the question.

  • Strength or OK for now: 43% of respondents
  • Could be better or Urgent gap: 31% of respondents
  • I don’t know: 26%

Disaggregated results are shared below.

By role

This seems to be the item that elementary school principals and staff who work directly with attendance are the most concerned about — 16% of principals and 26% of attendance staff feel it is an urgent gap. Principals and attendance staff also seem to be much more comfortable answering this question than other categories of respondents.

While only 2% and 9% of principals and attendance staff, respectively, report that they don’t know enough to answer the question, between 24% and 58% of each of the other groups of respondents report not knowing enough.

 

Elem. school principal/vice-principal

Attendance staff at elem. school

Head Start, NC PreK, preschool teacher or administrator

Elem. school teacher

Other staff at elem. school

Community organization involved in elem. school

Strength/OK for now

49%

43%

52%

36%

38%

29%

Could be better/Urgent gap

49%

49%

24%

29%

27%

13%

I don’t know

2%

9%

24%

35%

35%

58%

By urban vs. rural

Respondents from rural school districts are slightly more confident about their schools’ attendance teams than respondents from urban and suburban districts.

 

Urban

Suburban

Rural

Strength/OK for now

37%

38%

46%

Could be better/Urgent gap

36%

28%

32%

I don’t know

27%

34%

21%

By race

Black respondents are more confident that their school attendance teams are doing a good job meeting regularly and following up than are white respondents, and they are also less likely than their white counterparts to report that they don’t know enough to respond. There were not sufficient sample sizes for respondents of other races to make any further analyses by race.

 

Black

White

Strength/OK for now

54%

39%

Could be better/Urgent gap

28%

33%

I don’t know

18%

29%

Recommendations

Based on these survey results, the report recommends that school leaders:

  • Check in with their attendance staff to understand their concerns about the accuracy of attendance data, since attendance staff members are more concerned than school leaders that accurate data collection may not be happening.
  • Build on their data collection success by having a school-based attendance team analyze the data regularly and respond to cases of chronic absence. Principals and school staff who deal directly with attendance seem to agree that they need a strong attendance team, which should help move the idea forward. Black administrators may already be putting more focus on having a strong team in place to follow up on chronic absences and could be asked to share their best practices.

National bright spot

The Philadelphia Postcard Project is an example of engaging families through the use of attendance data to reduce chronic absence rates. In 2017, a researcher from Harvard University led a randomized control study to assess the impact of providing attendance data to students’ families. Elementary, middle and high schools in the School District of Philadelphia collected student-level attendance data and printed unique student information on individual postcards.

The school district found that home addresses were more accurate and more widely available than cell phone numbers. Each family received a single postcard with information about the importance of attending school and their student’s attendance data. Each postcard cost about 22 cents. As a result of this low-cost intervention, the average absentee rate dropped by 2.4%.

North Carolina bright spot

C.C. Wright Elementary, a Title I school in Wilkes County, serves 375 students, nearly half of whom are economically disadvantaged. Fueled by the recognition that attendance habits formed in elementary school influence a student’s likelihood of graduating high school, Principal Kimberlee Stone has made student attendance a priority. Data drives the practices her team employs to reduce chronic absence.

Each day, the school’s data manager pulls a report from NC PowerSchool on every child who was absent. Additional absences for the current school year are included in that report. On a case-by-case basis, Dr. Stone and her team — the teacher, school social worker, school nurse, assistant principal, and school counselor — review the students’ histories. If the team identifies a trend or concern, they request that the family attend a meeting to address the child’s absences, identify barriers to attendance, and develop a path forward. Data-driven practices and a skilled data manager are key to the school’s approach.


Next month’s perspective will delve into current North Carolina school-level policies and practices around recognizing good and improved attendance and share some bright spots from around the country and right here in NC where that work is being done well. Check out NCECF’s AttendaNCe Counts series of reports to learn more about current state, district and school and community-level policies and practices around regular school attendance in NC.