Use Data to Determine Need for Additional Support

While a strong school-wide culture of attendance is an essential ingredient of academic success in all schools, it may not always be sufficient.

Some students, especially those who are chronically absent, may need a higher level of intervention. The good news is chronic absence can be turned around if data are used to identify and connect students–as early as possible–to positive, engaging support strategies that motivate them to attend school and address challenging barriers.

The Arkansas Department of Education has created a report in Cognos that can be used with the Attendance Works School Student Attendance Tracking Tool (SATT) to create charts and tables analyzing chronic absence by grade, race/ethnicity, gender, income, special education status, and whether or not a child is an English language learner. The SATT also creates a watch list you can use to identify students who are chronically absent or at risk of being so. Chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, at any point in the school year. 

As a principal, you can:

  1. Secure your school’s chronic absence data
  2. Review your school’s chronic absence data
  3. Use data to provide additional support for chronically absent students
  4. Establish data-informed goals and monitor progress

1. Secure your school’s chronic absence data

You can access your school’s chronic absence data in Cognos by following the steps below: 

  1. Log into Cognos
  2. Select Student Management System
  3. Select "Attendance”
  4. Select “Attendance Download Files”
  5. Select "ATT Works Absents"
  6. Select the school year, school, and grades, then click "Finish”

If you need help accessing the report, work with your district’s information technology staff. If they need help, they can contact Carmen Jordan at the Arkansas Department of Education at carmen.jordan@arkansas.gov.

The next step is to upload your data from the Cognos report into Attendance Works School Attendance Tracking Tool. If you need help using the tool, contact Angela Duran at the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at aduran@ar-glr.net

The charts and tables in the SATT will help you determine whether chronic absence is a problem for your entire school, as well as for specific grades and student populations. The tool tracks attendance trends related to satisfactory attendance (missing less than 5 percent of school), at-risk attendance (missing 6-10 percent school), moderate chronic absence (missing 10-19 percent), and severe chronic absence (missing 20 percent or more).

2. Review your school’s chronic absence data

Once the data report is available, spend time reviewing the results. Bring the data to your school's attendance team or intervention team, share with school staff, and if possible involve community partners who can help interpret what it means. These could include afterschool providers, social workers, or housing authority officials who work with children at risk of chronic absence. Remember aggregate grade-level and school-level data can be shared with the community. 

Key Questions include:

  • Does the data look accurate to you? If not, what might be causing problems with attendance data entry? What improvements might be needed to increase data accuracy?
  • What is your chronic absence rate? Is it getting worse or better?
  • Is chronic absence concentrated among particular groups of students?
  • Is it higher or lower among particular grades?
  • Do some student populations have higher or lower levels of chronic absence?
  • What might explain some of these differences? What additional information do you need to identify barriers or put effective strategies in place?
  • What qualitative data do you need to collect and from whom? How might you collect the data (survey, focus group, case study)?
  • How does the level of need (reflected in the severity of absences) compare to the availability of support to improve attendance in your school and district?

3. Use data to provide additional supports to chronically absent students

Attendance records from past years and from the first month or two of school can identify students at-risk of chronic absence and can be used to connect these students to a higher tier of support. Chronic absence can be a sign that the family needs help to overcome a particular attendance barrier.

Common Causes of Student Absenteeism

Attendance Works

Extra support typically involves helping students and their families build strong, positive, and caring relationships with school staff and other students, connect to engaging learning activities, and overcome any barriers to attendance.

When implemented early in the school year, this approach can help students, with their family’s support, start the year with good attendance, rather than find themselves struggling because they have fallen behind as a result of too many absences. 

For more tools and resources see this toolkit from Attendance Works: The Power of Positive Connections: Reducing Chronic Absence Through PEOPLE (Priority Early Outreach through Positive Linkages and Engagement)

If large numbers of students are affected by chronic absence, systemic barriers may be at play. Identifying these barriers can indicate the appropriate solutions, whether that involves establishing closets with school uniforms, improving access to health care, developing safe walking routes, tutoring, mentoring, offering morning or after-school care, or other approaches. 

In Arkansas, students who receive a free or reduced price lunch are twice as likely to be chronically absent. The challenges associated with limited financial resources directly contribute to whether students attend school regularly. Keeping in mind the barriers created by poverty can be important in addressing widespread chronic absence and generally requires involving city agencies and nonprofit and community partners.

See these resources for tips on addressing specific barriers:   

4. Establish data-informed goals and monitor progress

A common saying is that what gets measured is what gets done. This is particularly true with chronic absence. It is not enough to say that attendance is a priority. An essential ingredient for change is building in shared accountability for reducing chronic absence into how you assess your work as a school.

The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has set a statewide goal that no more than five percent of students will be chronically absent. 

Principals can create accountability by visibly recognizing contributions to improving attendance, as well as by building metrics into school-wide and individual performance measures.

  • Set annual attendance goals with your teaching staff and measure your progress along the way
  • Ensure attendance goals reflect multiple attendance measures: reductions in the percent of students who are chronically absent (absent more than 10 percent) and increases in students with satisfactory attendance (absent less than five percent)
  • Establish goals that are school-wide and also group-specific based on needs, such as reducing chronic absence among special education students or increasing regular attendance among kindergartners
  • Share classroom and school-wide attendance data with your teachers on a regular basis; recognize teachers and staff members who are making significant contributions toward achieving annual attendance goals

Together, with the support of your staff, you can, in a relatively short-time frame, put in place the practices that research and experience from across Arkansas and in communities across the country have found to make a difference.