The Department of Education reported that over 7 million students — nearly 1 and 6 pupils across the nation — missed at least 15 days of school during the 2015-16 school year. Missing at least 10 percent of instruction days offered puts students at risk for chronic absenteeism. And without interventions, chronically absent students are more likely to perform below grade level, fail courses, and drop out of school.
Chronic absenteeism is not a random occurrence. It is linked to a series of socioemotional factors, including a lack of housing, food, mental and emotional support, and academic support. And with COVID-19 causing an abrupt transition to distance learning, it has only made it more difficult to secure the resources students need to be successful.
This is why in October of 2020, Green Dot Public Schools California partnered with Cross Country Education to develop and implement new innovative practices to mitigate chronic absenteeism. Through responsive data, case managers, and school site support, we have been reducing the number of students experiencing chronic absenteeism across our schools.
Closing Opportunity Gaps
At Green Dot, we know that closing opportunity gaps is critical to student success in college, leadership, and life. That’s why Melissa Peña, our student services programs manager, and Leilani Abulon, our Chief Programs Officer, spearheaded this group effort. “We've purposefully tried to assemble an interdisciplinary team because student attendance at our schools is everybody's business,” Abulon said. Contributing to this interdisciplinary approach is our Coordination of Services Team (COST), which includes clinical services, school administrators, counselors, and school psychologists; our Advisory and Culture team; Expanded Learning team; and a diverse team of temporary case managers provided by Cross Country Education.
“We’ve partnered with Cross Country Education for a couple of years now around the challenges that our chronically absent students face,” Abulon said. “We work with them to find counselors to assist schools with at-risk student populations.” Peña and Abulon assigned 22 case managers to our 19 schools.
“We worked with our case managers to help us reduce the rates of chronic absence by communication with students and families about attendance barriers. And the managers figured out what interventions we needed to provide to students and families to address those barriers.”
Each of the 22 counselors previously served as school psychologists, behavior intervention developers, counselors, or teachers with counseling backgrounds—which are all fields that are connected to chronic absenteeism. “We wanted people with particular skill sets and training to be able to pick up on cues that there might be a mental health need and take the appropriate action,” Abulon said.
While talking with students and families, case managers were assigned to monitor students’ progress over the school year. The managers used this data to determine whether or not current interventions were effective.
The newfound collaboration with case managers has led to incredible success. Since the start of this partnership in 2019, our schools in California have had an 18% decrease in chronic absenteeism. Of these students, rates have dropped significantly for African-American students (14% reduction), emerging bilingual students (20% reduction), foster youth (23% reduction), students with disabilities (19% reduction), and students experiencing homelessness (8% reduction).
“We used the data to help us determine what schools need, and what level of service they require,” Peña said. Peña and Abulon have used this data to determine the effectiveness of their case managers. They have also held focus groups to determine how students have benefited from interventions.
Genesis, a 6th grade student attending Ánimo Compton Charter School, said targeted interventions realigned her focus on school. “My case manager has helped me with many things like keeping me motivated, helping me with certain things that I needed,” the student said.
Alexa, a high school student in our network, said the case manager created a safe space to discuss barriers to attendance. “Whenever we would talk or have our meetings she always created a time and space where I could just talk about how I was feeling in general. Thanks to her I was able to feel comfortable and talk to her about what was really going on,” the student added.
When Peña and Abulon spearheaded this effort, they aimed to reduce chronic absenteeism to less than 5% across our Los Angeles network. Even with these positive results and a reduced need for case manager interventions, our work is far from over.
“We've identified two places that we really want to push on in the next three years: data and communication,” Peña said. “We’re looking at what we're calling our early warning indicator and then using that data to make decisions. And then we’re strengthening communication specifically to families and students.”
Peña is also interested in gathering more data on days with the lowest attendance across our network to determine which interventions can be most effective and proactive.
Green Dot Public School is committed to preparing all students for success in college, leadership, and life. Our network is built around innovation that engages students, and interventions that keep students on the path to college. Through this work, we hope to strengthen our replicable model so that all students have access to a high quality public school education in their neighborhoods.