Attendance Liaisons with Attention2AttendanceKamala D. Harris, California Attorney General
Val Verde Unified School District
2016 Truancy Report, Demonstrating Years of Progress, Persistent Challenges
Published October 19, 2016
Excerpt from report: school district using Attention2Attendance
Dr. Gary Roughton, Director of Child Welfare & Attendance for the Val Verde Unified School District, took over the division 5 years ago. According to Roughton, the district’s focus on chronic absence was prompted by a New York Times article on the impact of chronic absenteeism on student outcomes.1 The article made clear that all absences, not just unexcused absences, can negatively impact reading rates and can increase dropout rates for students. “So that became our focus,” remarked Roughton.
"Our job is not to get anyone in trouble. It’s to find out the reason, to get to the root of the problem."
Teach on Special Assignment (TOSA)
The district has implemented several key initiatives to successfully reduce their chronic absence rates including their innovative use of Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA) as dedicated attendance liaisons. As a result, the district has improved their attendance rate for elementary students from 94% in 2011-2012 to 96.7% in 2015-2016.
Components of an Effective Attendance Program
Roughton suggested that effective attendance programs should have the following four components:
- It has to be a visible priority
- You have to look at the data
- It has to be a team approach
- You have to have an active SARB
In addition, Roughton stressed the importance of due diligence, including executing the basics well. For example, districts must ensure that accurate attendance is taken every day in every school.
A Professional Team Approach
The first thing Roughton did when he joined the Val Verde Unified School District was look at the attendance and absence data—as well as the districts’ attendance policies and practices—to identify areas for improvements. Roughton found that School Attendance Review Team (SART) meetings were reportedly conducted by principals, but in actuality, many SART meetings were not taking place. Roughton attributed this to the limited time principals have during the day to conduct SARTs given their other responsibilities. Roughton also found that when SARTs did occur, there was no staff training on how to conduct them nor was there a standard operating protocol.
To systematize their response to student absences and to make their first contact with parents more meaningful, Roughton brought in a team of four TOSAs, who now conduct approximately 6,000 SARTs per year at all of the schools in the district. As a result, the SART process is handled from beginning to end by a trained, certificated individual. According to Roughton and his team of TOSAs, TOSAs are well-suited to serve as attendance liaisons because they are all former classroom teachers with extensive experience working with students and their families. After the TOSAs conduct these initial meeting with parents, 75% of students improve their attendance.
In addition to meeting with parents through the SARTs, the TOSAs also conduct home visits with the parents of chronically absent students. In the parent meetings, the TOSAs explain the relationship between attendance and graduation rates to illustrate the danger of high absence rates. In these one-on-one visits, the TOSAs also encourage parents to explain the reasons why their student is missing school. Based on the family’s needs, the TOSAs use the visits as an opportunity to connect parents with the appropriate resources to improve the student’s attendance.
The TOSAs meet every day as a team to discuss their cases. They know that attendance is often driven by barriers that can affect the whole family, and if one sibling has poor attendance, likely other siblings have an issue also. In addition to their team-wide discussions, before meeting with parents the TOSAs conduct a thorough review of the student’s files. As part of this review, they check to see if the student has any siblings in the district and whether or not the sibling has attendance problems also. Therefore, when they meet with the parents they can discuss attendance issues for all of the children at once, rather than having to set up separate meetings for each child.
Another important component of the TOSAs work is documentation. The TOSAs document all aspects of their work with students and families, including the interventions each student receives year over year. According to the TOSAs, this helps when families move through the various stages of the intervention process. When parents are sent to the School Attendance Review Board (SARB), the TOSAs are able to brief the panel on the case before the parents arrive. According to the TOSAs, this helps increase the effectiveness of the SARB and encourages a more compassionate response from SARB members. In addition, SARB members can discuss all of the resources already provided to the family prior to panel to determine other ways to support the family.
A Focus on All Absences, Not Just Unexcused
When Roughton joined the district, he also found that although the attendance clerks were responsible for sending out letters to students with high rates of absenteeism, they were not being sent. Therefore, Roughton contracted with Attention 2 Attendance (A2A) to ensure the letters went out to families. In Val Verde, the district focuses on all absences, not just unexcused absences. Therefore, instead of the traditional Notice of Truancy to parents, Val Verde has asked A2A to send a letter to parents at 3, 5 and 8 absences in the first semester, and 10 and 15 absences in the second semester, whether they are excused or unexcused. Val Verde is the first of A2A’s client districts with a 100% completion rate for conferences with parents (via meeting, home visit, phone calls, etc.) after the second excessive absence letter.
Cultivating Positive Attendance Patterns
Finally, in Val Verde, as in other districts, the highest rates of absenteeism are in the earliest grades. Therefore, in the 2015-2016 school year Val Verde had a district-wide focus on students in grades TK-5 as part of a campaign to get all students reading at grade-level by 3rd grade. As part of this work, as soon as a student is identified as in danger of becoming chronically absent, the TOSAs request a meeting with the parents. This effort has led to a decrease in kindergarten chronic absence rates from 12% in 2014-2015 to 10% in 2015-2016.
1. City Reduces Chronic Absenteeism in Public Schools, June 16, 2011, New York Ti