SCSD Partners with Harvard’s Proving Ground on Attendance Initiative

     Published on 9/7/18   Tagged under:    District News    HW Smith K-8 School   

This is a screenshot of an attendance postcard image showing a scale of how many days of school a student has missed.Thanks to a three-year partnership with Harvard University’s Proving Ground, the Syracuse City School District is trying new methods to help improve student attendance and make sure that every student attends school every day!
The partnership brings SCSD together with other school systems across the country, all working together to help remove the barriers to student achievement. Proving Ground helps districts analyze their data to find areas that are preventing student success. In the Syracuse City School District, chronic absenteeism has been a challenge. In order to help improve academics, we first need to improve attendance.
Through looking at SCSD data, Proving Ground discovered that students who are chronically absent in kindergarten are more likely to be chronically absent in first grade; and that chronic absenteeism is more prominent in middle school than in elementary school. They noted that students are more likely to be absent when they have a sibling or other family member in the household who is absent. They also discovered that just seven absences can put a student up to two months behind academically.
To address these challenges, Proving Ground and our network of school partners help suggest solutions that have brought about success in other districts. They create ‘prototype’ solutions with district administrators and test the ideas with parents and students, seeking feedback that will allow them to address potential challenges before the idea is even launched.
In the 2018-19 school year, three major projects will be launched as a result of the Proving Ground partnership.
  • Postcard Project: Schools will mail postcards home to any kindergarten and first grade students who are absent. Our team identified that a potential reason kindergarteners were missing school was because some parents may not be aware of the content that is taught at the kindergarten level. Postcards address this by providing a way for teachers to quickly and easily let parents/guardians know just what their child missed with each absence and why it matters. This project was pre-piloted in nine SCSD schools in the 2017-18 school year and will be expanded this year.
  • Attendance Comparison Letter: We will send letters home to families every six weeks throughout the year, showing how many days of school their child has missed and how that compares to other students in their school and grade level.  
  • Summer Home Visits: Family Engagement Facilitators visited with students transitioning from 5th to 6th grades prior to the start of the new school year. We noticed a significant jump in absenteeism from 5th to 6th grades, and the cause of that jump may have to do with the difficulty of the transition from elementary to middle school. Summer home visits provided support with this transition.  
“We piloted sending the attendance postcards to our kindergarten families for two weeks last year,” HW Smith Principal Teri Haley explained, noting that the postcards helped lead to an increase in parent communication and a boost in student attendance. “They were a good communication tool to help keep parents updated. Our parents are busy, and they told us that they didn’t realize how much their children had been absent. They appreciated the postcards as way of helping to keep them informed. Our teachers also said that the postcards helped them get into a habit of regularly communicating with parents. Kindergarten is an age where habits are developed, so the attendance postcards helped our students and parents develop good habits about coming to school and participating in classroom activities.”
“Our work with Proving Ground has connected us with similar school districts throughout our nation, and together we can share ideas to address the issues of chronic absenteeism," Dr. Rob DiFlorio, SCSD Executive Director of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, said.
We look forward to sharing the impact these new initiatives have on student attendance and achievement!