Guest Blog Authored by: Phillip Shaver, VP of Client Success, AllHere
While writing this post, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted school operations in the United States for 18 months. Many school systems across the country remained closed from March 2020, through the 2020/2021 school year, and plan to have all students return in-person during the 2021/2022 school year. Parents and educators have ongoing concerns about student safety, learning loss, and equitable access to resources. While we can’t change what’s happened over the last year and a half, communities can reassess how to move forward understanding lessons learned during the pandemic.
Achievement Gap to Achievement Canyon
The achievement gap typically represents a concept where non-white students are compared to white students on various metrics including reading and math assessments, graduation rates, dropout rates, and post-secondary education/training plans. During the most uncertain times of the pandemic students were expected to learn remotely while teachers were expected to learn how to teach remotely. Our team is dedicated to understanding the impacts of chronic absenteeism as a lead indicator for student outcomes. Among students who previously had barriers to regular attendance due to family issues, homelessness, poverty, and other resource scarcity, the access to school now relied on the student’s computing device and internet connection. For many, the achievement gap grew between students who had access and support versus those who had neither.
Strategies for Change
Most students attend school regularly. Most parents want their child to succeed in school. Students identified with the most severe chronic absenteeism are absent more than 30 days in a school year. In most states, it is the responsibility of the school district to promote and enforce compulsory attendance laws. What can a school system do to make a positive impact?
Know your students. One of the first places a district can look deeper into the system-wide data of chronically absent students is demographics. Look beyond the outward demographics, like skin color, and into the poverty levels and geography. Many communities will find concentrations of chronically absent students in historically poor neighborhoods.
Community engagement partnerships. The primary purpose of a school system is to educate students through graduation. For the students and families that are struggling to get to school regularly, there may be social services available but the family either doesn’t know or is hesitant to accept help. Many counties and local agencies are ready to invest where there is a need. Beyond the classroom, students need help. Consider transportation solutions beyond the traditional school bus. There may be room for a community shuttle, free/discounted bus passes for students, or partnerships with services like HopSkipDrive who operate with a focus on equity.
Policy revisions. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders in Broward County, Florida expressed concern about student attendance, equity, and district policies. District staff and advisory councils worked together to clarify language in the policy to ensure the application of policies were fair and consistent throughout the 220+ public schools in the system.
The revised attendance policy provides clear language for parents and schools about how to excuse an absence with their child’s school.
Mental health was added to the list of excusable reasons for an absence, combined under “Student Illness” to help people understand that a student’s health involves the whole student, mind and body.
Suspensions. When a student is suspended from school, they also miss the direct instruction the school is there to provide. With vague language, some schools may have recorded students as absent rather than suspended, adding to the count of unexcused absences that count towards truancy with the potential to face further legal interventions instead of relationship-building. The revised language explains how suspensions are counted regarding a student’s attendance record to help avoid a double penalty.
Emergency School Closures. Already deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida remains in the potential path of natural disasters. A new section was added to the attendance policy to address the continuing pandemic and any other possible situation that could cause a school building to close with the possibility of providing instruction remotely. Later that school year, a wall collapsed in a school building (no one was injured), and the school was able to temporarily pivot back to 100% remote learning until another in-person solution was determined.
Leverage technology for engaging curriculum. If the curriculum does not spark joy for the student, what is their motivation to pay attention? Veteran teachers who previously suffered an ongoing battle for student attention from their electronic devices found new ways to engage students and encourage the use of cell phones and tablets. Teachers who may have been late adopters to instructional technology found the help they needed through online tools like NearPod, Kahoot!, Mentimeter, and BrainPOP. For the teachers who were new to these resources during the pandemic, they are likely to keep these engagement tools in the toolbox for years to come.
Absence prevention strategies include identifying root causes for absences, equitable access to school, family resources, policy implications, and engaging curriculum.
Learn more about how AllHere can be a part of your community’s future student success stories.