Absenteeism Records in Elementary Schools Slashed Thanks to New Program

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A new program has been developed that seeks to reduce absenteeism in elementary schools. During its pilot program, it managed to reduce absenteeism by around 10 percent on average in the five mid-sized North Carolina schools that took part.

Absenteeism is a problem for kids at any age.  Just a few days off school could lead to poor test scores, low grades, and eventually dropping out.

“This program offers a feasible and effective method for improving communication between teacher and parents, and as one important result improving attendance,” said principal investigator Philip Cook, a professor emeritus at Duke’s Sandford School of Public Policy.  “We believe that this result is especially important for at-risk children, helping establish a positive connection to school that we expect to pay dividends throughout their education career.”

Traditionally, children from disadvantaged homes tend to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.  Statistics have also shown that high-school drop-outs tend to have a greater number of absences as early on as the first grade.  Research suggests that by reducing chronic absenteeism early on in primary schools, could help improve academic performance and school engagement levels later on.

Because of the close relationship elementary students have with their teachers, the prevention program has the teachers tackle the lead in lowering absences.  The program itself was initially designed by a university-research team with the help of staff from a North Carolina school system.  As part of the trial, teachers were asked to visit the homes of all their students to talk with their parents and establish a good working relationship.  Teachers were given attendance data regularly to identify where any problems may lie and with what barriers the child is experiencing in getting to schools such as transport, parental needs, or sickness.  Once the absence has been recorded, the system makes a suggestion for remedying the attendance issue, if there is one.

In total, 40 teachers took part in the trial: 20 were in the treatment group, and the other 20 were in the control group.  Those in the treatment group reported how the home visits had a positive impact on attendance and nearly 40 percent more parents initiated contact with the teachers than ever before.  The current cost for the program is around $150 per student.  This includes the smartphone for the teachers as well as some extra compensation for covering the teacher’s expenses while working overtime on home visits.

Article Source; Duke University

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