To succeed in school, students have to be present. Families and teachers can work together to make sure students show up every day, on time. To do so, families and teachers need a trusting relationship they can depend on if attendance becomes an issue. With the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), an education technology company, and public schools in DC, we’re testing whether giving teachers a new app will help them positively engage families and improve student attendance. The findings will shape the District’s strategies for increasing student attendance and investing in education technology.
Why is this issue important in DC?
In School Year 2017-18, 29.3% of public school students in DC missed more than 10% of school days.1 Research in other cities (Chicago and Philadelphia) shows that absenteeism in this range is an important predictor of high school dropout.2
What are we doing?
Evidence from multiple cities suggests that informing and engaging families about student absenteeism can improve attendance.3 There is much less research on the impact of education technological applications designed to support parent-teacher communications about attendance. The evidence is especially limited for upper grade levels.4
In this project, schools and teachers are receiving professional development around positive family engagement and a web and mobile app to text message and email parents. The app has automatic language translation, a tie-in to daily attendance data, and templates for starting positive conversations. Guardians do not need to download an app, rather they can reply directly via text message or email in their home language. Messages are translated back into English for teachers and administrators. These features are designed to build bridges for parents who are hard to reach due to irregular schedules, work commitments, or language barriers.
A randomly-selected group of teachers will pilot the web and mobile app during first semester in middle and high schools. In the second semester, we’ll roll out the app to all teachers in participating schools. We’ll learn how the app works by comparing fall attendance for students in the pilot teachers’ classrooms to students outside their classrooms.
What have we learned?
We are awaiting results, which we expect to release by Fall 2020.
What comes next?
The Deputy Mayor for Education will use the findings, along with those from the Every Ride Counts project, to shape the District’s Every Day Counts Initiative, which ensures that every student is in school every day.
What happened behind the scenes?
The Lab’s perspective on different ways to tackle attendance issues is not only shaped by academic research. It’s also shaped by the fact that The Lab staff includes several parents of current (and future) public school students in DC, as well as former K-12 teachers. Their experiences with classroom applications and schools messages—both positive and negative (i.e., form letters filled with legalese about the consequences of missing school)—have informed how we think about how both parents and teachers will engage with the app.