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How Data Crunching, Parental Involvement Helped One City Reduce Chronic Absenteeism

How Data Crunching, Parental Involvement Helped One City Reduce Chronic Absenteeism

NPR today featured a story on how Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan significantly reduced chronic absenteeism in its district made up of 17,000 students.

According to NPR, Superintendent Mel Atkins has been on a mission to reduce absenteeism in the district for three years and has made significant progress since declaring it his intention. Making good use of data and relaying that data to parents through engaging tactics, the article says, is what helped the district find success in its initiative.

Grand Rapids Public Schools isn’t the only district that has problems with high rates of absences among its student population. "Chronic absence is not just skipping school — it's more likely a mix of truancy entangled with illnesses and family problems. And it's a big problem in the U.S.: It's estimated that more than 5 million students a year are chronically absent,” NPR said.

Studies have shown that students who miss more school are less likely to succeed, so addressing the issue is a priority.

Atkins and his team worked hard to get the city on board with his mission and first did so by creating a campaign with the catchy slogan “Less than five! Strive for five.” He set up a district-wide goal to reduce absences to just five for the school year.

With this catchy slogan, Atkins gave parents access to the numbers.

"Atkins shared the chronic absence numbers with schools — on 8-foot poster boards. When you visit any public school in the city, you can't miss them. They're huge,” NPR said.

"Atkins gave data to principals, business owners, after-school programs and churches..He printed out a big map of the city so the district and the community partners could see the neighborhoods that were hurting — or needed extra attention. Businesses started putting Challenge 5 signs in their windows.”

Now, as this school year wraps up, NPR says Atkins helped reduce absences in the district by more than 3,600 kids.

Read the full story.

Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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