Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince William County School District (PWCS) saw an increase in chronic absenteeism among students. This wasn’t unique—many school districts across the country saw similar issues. During the 2021–22 school year, 19.4% of students missed 10% or more of the school year.
But when they looked at the absentee numbers for the 2022–23 year, that number had increased. Significantly.
Chronic Absenteeism on the Rise
During the second quarter of the 2022–23 year, 23.5% of county students were chronically absent, a 4.1% increase from the year prior. In other words, over 21,000 students missed a significant amount of learning time.
The School Board began looking into attendance solutions after an earlier update showed that 29% (or 26,400) of county students missed five or more days in the second quarter of the 2022–23 school year.
“We know that there is a correlation between absenteeism and classroom performance. Stated simply, better attendance is associated with higher grades,” said Dr. Michael Neall, PWCS Director of Research, Accountability, and Strategic Planning.
“It isn’t just our academic performance that’s critical here, but it’s hard to make a connection and foster a sense of belonging when students aren’t present in school. And we know that that is critical in addressing social-emotional needs.”
Chronic absenteeism rates in the first half of 2023 prompted leaders to seek innovative ways to get kids back in class. Dr. Neall partnered with SchoolStatus to find a solution.
Rolling Out “Attention to Attendance”
In light of the increased numbers of chronically absent students, Neall announced a new initiative called “Attention to Attendance,” a program backed by the school attendance management system, SchoolStatus Attend.
School Communication in Action
The Attention to Attendance program prioritizes follow-up with families along with “multimedia attendance communication campaigns” and a particular focus on schools with high absences.
Family notification of absences is done electronically, with school staff regularly following up with them.
The district has also instituted “re-engagement nights” to involve families who may need a little extra engagement.
How School Communications Make a Difference
The “Attention to Attendance” program has seen encouraging results. By the third quarter, chronic absenteeism flattened out in county schools, dropping to 18.7% of students, down just slightly from the same period in the prior school year.
The Attention to Attendance program also gave educators and school staff a much-needed reprieve from creating and sending attendance letters, so they can get back to what matters most: supporting their students’ continued success.
A positive, proactive, data-driven communication strategy between school and home is an effective way to address absenteeism.
By implementing an integrated school communication system like SchoolStatus, the Prince William County School District could:
- Reach every family, in their preferred language, with positive letter campaign sharing the benefits and importance of attendance
- Analyze important data about student attendance turn that information into an actionable outreach
- Engage with families about student progress consistently—via 2-way translatable text and email, video chat, and multi-language mail campaigns
- With SchoolStatus Attend’s combination of service and software, save teachers and staff hours of time on attendance management, and lower overhead.
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