The Solution for ‘Uncontactable’ Students in Texas School Districts

May 15, 2020

The landscape of Texas education has changed drastically in the past two months.  When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of districts across the state, administrators and educators had to react quickly to deliver traditional learning in an online format.

Educators have stepped up with creative solutions to this difficult situation-- whether recording video lessons for students, developing paper-based curriculum, or finding ways to supply wifi to families in need, school districts have persevered to provide continuity in learning. 

Uncontactable students, however, remain a persistent issue at the heart of remote learning in Texas.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released guidelines for “uncontactable students” on April 30. Uncontactable students are defined as “a student that is not participating in the continuing instruction formats being provided by the school district and for whom multiple efforts to contact them or their relatives listed as the student’s contacts have failed.” The TEA expects districts to keep track of the number of students who are not regularly participating in distance learning instructions during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Districts also need to be aware of the number of students who fall into special population categories such as homeless or under foster care who are uncontactable.  

ABC13 Investigates recently reached out to over a dozen Houston-area school districts to track the numbers of uncontacted students and ultimately found that disparate connectivity points, as well as a large percentage of students using paper curriculum, have made accurate numbers difficult to come by. 

But how are districts able to keep track of these uncontactable students? The barriers are complex. Most parent communication SchoolStatus helps educators communicate with every parent tools require parents to download an app or visit a website, however 15% of parents do not have smart phones and across Texas there are still a large number of families who do not have regular access to the internet and Wi-Fi.  Many Texas districts rely on email or mass-messaging that fails to reach these families. In addition, language barriers prevent some teachers from speaking directly to parents--and district translators are not immediately available.  

Ultimately when districts have students who are uncontactable, administrators are required to perform home-visits. These home-visits are time-consuming and require personnel to remove themselves from other essential duties across the district-- not ideal while social distancing or facing unknowns at a student’s home.

Districts need a tool to automatically record and log all stakeholder communication and integrate student data to sort special populations, that doesn’t require families to download or access anything extra.  That tool is SchoolStatus.

Communication logs are not a new concept in education. Teachers have been keeping written call logs for years. Automatic digital call logs, however, change the way communication records are utilized. With SchoolStatus, “It’s all logged. Every conversation. There’s a transcript of it, so we’ve got a record of every conversation, every exchange between a teacher and a parent,” says Sanger ISD Director of Accountability, Assessment, and Data, Jennifer Mulkey.

“Teachers can see if they need to remediate. They can communicate with parents. Parents can help at home,” says Mulkey.

Sanger Teacher Beth Sullivan concurs, “Building relationships with parents is a lot easier when you remove barriers like language and the necessity to opt-in to an app.”

The future of traditional classroom-based education is uncertain as we look towards September. What we can be sure of is the necessity to be in contact with ALL families will remain essential to ensuring students have access to lesson plans, curriculum and resources. Now is the time districts need to be evaluating their communications processes.  Are they set-up to track and make certain all parents are in regular contact with teachers and district support such as counsellors where needed?  Are the metrics of district engagement easy to find for administrators? 

Over the coming months, districts should look towards acquiring technology solutions to assist with these communication requirements for implementation prior to the new year. ‘Uncontactable’ is a status we can prevent.

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SchoolStatus gives educators a real-time picture of all data associated with their students including benchmarks, state assessments, grades, discipline, attendance, etc. From the same view, educators have tools to contact parents via text, email or call while documenting the communication on the student record. No other parent communication technology provides tools for data analytics and parent communication from within a single system.

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