This summer, we’ve looked at best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. We’ve taken a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level; the need to foster leadership in our districts and schools; ideas for developing an excellent teacher talent pool; strategies for raising expectations of our students; and the importance of investing intelligently in our education system. 

Let’s kick off the school year by discussing some practices for turning around achievement at the school-level.

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Too many of Connecticut’s underprivileged students are in chronically low-performing schools, which exacerbates the state’s highest-in-the-nation achievement gap. In order to ensure that every child is receiving the education that she deserves, we must focus on reform strategies that are specifically targeted towards the complex problems that students in these schools face.

Chronic absenteeism is defined differently by different states; often it is described as missing 10% of school. While chronic absenteeism occurs in almost all districts, it is generally concentrated in a few low-performing schools. These schools are disproportionately in low-income, urban districts. In some districts, as many as one-in-three students misses a month of school or more each year. Students who were chronically absent scored 60 points below their peers on reading and 100 points below their peers on math, even when both groups started school at comparable levels. Falling behind academically further discourages students from attending school and can have a cyclical effect. School attendance is the most accurate determinate of whether students will eventually drop out.

Below are some of the methods that are being used around the country to combat absenteeism and turn around schools.

Rigorous Tracking and Early Diagnosis

Being able to consistently identify students who are chronically absent is a big step towards curtailing the issue. Studies show that identifying and intervening when an issue arises in elementary school is more effective than waiting until middle school or high school.

Once a student is identified as at risk for chronic absenteeism, it is important to understand why the student is missing school.  This will allow schools to take targeted next steps for individual students and find local patterns in absenteeism to drive systemic change.

Parent and Community Involvement

Reaching out to parents can be one of a school’s best strategies. Parents may not even be aware that their child is not in school. When absenteeism is brought to parents’ attention, they can help support efforts to get children into school.

It is also important to make personal connections with the family, for example, by making phone calls instead of sending form letters.  Where the problem persists, home visits have been shown to be one of the most effective ways of lowering the rate of chronic absenteeism.

Mentorship and Strong Relationships

Research strongly shows that students are more likely to come to school when they feel that people at school care about them. School leaders should encourage staff to form relationships with their students by having an open door policy and greeting student in between classes. Some schools go further and create a formal “case load” where certain teachers are assigned to certain students. Lennox Middle School in California has an “Adopt a Student” program. Students in this program have at least one hour of one-on-one time with a teacher each day. This program helps to ensure student attendance. School staff should be provided with professional development on reaching out to students to support school connectedness.

Older students can also act as mentors. The Boston Urban Youth Foundation provides safe spaces at school for students to develop positive dialogue and support. Fostering a strong connection with other students can also motivate better school attendance.

Implementing strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism is one tactic low-performing schools can use to improve student achievement.