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Educators and Community Leaders Share Strategies for Improving School Attendance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, and RI Reads: The Campaign for 3rd Grade Reading hosted a panel discussion today to underscore the importance of school attendance to student achievement. September is National Attendance Awareness Month, and today’s event featured effective school strategies to reduce chronic early absence, as well as a data presentation and Fact Sheet release from Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

In the 2016-2017 school year, 13 percent of Rhode Island students in grades K-3 were chronically absent, which is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year, or 18 school days.

“Attendance is a leading indicator for student achievement. Our students can’t learn unless they’re in school, and the habits they develop early often bleed through the rest of their educational experience," said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We need to continue to elevate this issue and educate students and families about the importance of school attendance, and I’m grateful to the schools, districts, and community partners who are joining us in making this a priority.”

“Chronic absence is a critical issue that has a significant impact on student achievement and affects children in every city and town in Rhode Island,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “Principals, teachers, parents, and community partners need to work together at the state and community level to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism, while paying particular attention to low-income children. We're excited to bring together educators, policy makers, and community leaders to discuss the problem of early chronic absence, as well as how to implement policies and programs that will improve attendance – and outcomes – for children.”

“Attendance suffers when families are struggling with competing demands of transportation, housing, safety, illness and poverty. The degree to which we can mitigate the root factors that cause absenteeism increases our chances of achieving academic success,” said Angela Ankoma, Executive Vice President and Director of Community Investment at United Way of Rhode Island.

Chronically absent students are at risk academically and are less likely to graduate high school. Starting this year, Rhode Island will include chronic absence in its system of school accountability. Data for the 2017-2018 school year will be included in the new School and District Report Cards, which will make both student and teacher chronic absence data publicly available.

The best practices highlighted in today’s panel discussion are:

  • The Attendance Tool: Created by the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Attendance Tool, or “Nudge” Tool, is an online platform that tracks student attendance data and allows school leaders to track students who are at-risk of being chronically absent. The Tool allows principals to generate nudge letters and text messages to parents, warning of chronic absence and emphasizing the importance of strong attendance.
  • Holistic Approach to Attendance: Hennessey Elementary School in East Providence was the first school to pilot RIDE’s Attendance Tool, and they have a school attendance team that tackles chronic absence in a multitude of ways. East Providence has since scaled up, bringing the Attendance Tool online at all of its elementary schools.
  • Walking School Bus: Coordinated by Family Service of Rhode Island, the Walking School Bus program supports a wide range of student-centered goals, including daily school attendance, on-time arrival, daily exercise, positive adult role models, and parent engagement with the school community.
  • Prioritizing Family Engagement: Every Wednesday morning, Principal Courtney Monterecy and her staff greet families at Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and updates on their school community. Coffee by the Curb is part of a family engagement strategy that connects students and families more to their school, and gets them excited about going to school each day.

For more information on RIDE’s efforts to address chronic absence, visit RIDE’s attendance page, which shares tools and resources to support schools and districts. For more information about education issues in Rhode Island, including data on chronic absence, please visit Rhode Island KIDS COUNT at www.rikidscount.org/IssueAreas/Education.

For more information on RI Reads: The Campaign for 3rd Grade Reading, please visit RIReads.org.

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