- Texting parents can be an effective and inexpensive way to communicate the importance of student attendance, but to succeed district leaders should evaluate their needs and resources as well as understand the IT infrastructure required to meet their goals, advises a report and toolkit issued last month by the Institute of Education Sciences.
- The texting recommendations are based on previous research that showed texting about attendance could be more effective if messages progressed to include more information and motivation for parents. This adaptive approach lowered expected chronic absenteeism rates by 3.5 to 7.3 percentage points for elementary students with a history of high absences, according to the research.
- The pandemic has heightened concerns about low school attendance rates, with several school systems reporting increases in chronic absenteeism. Parent communication, in addition to absenteeism data monitoring, interventions for attendance barriers, and other strategies, can help combat low attendance rates, advises Attendance Works, an initiative aimed at improving school attendance.
Chronic absence, which is defined as missing 10% or more of school days for any reason including excused, unexcused absences and suspensions, can lead to students having difficulty learning to read by 3rd grade, staying on track academically in middle school, and graduating from high school, according to Attendance Works.
An analysis of attendance rates at 17 California school districts showed chronic absenteeism rates spiked from 11.2% in October 2019 to 27.4% in October 2021. Black and Hispanic/Latino students had higher rates of chronic absenteeism than White and Asian students in those districts.
“This year, we believe chronic absence rates are even more elevated given the rough start to school with buildings opening for in-person instruction just as the delta variant was spreading,” Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, told K-12 Dive in an email in November.
IES's 99-page toolkit's recommendations are for district administrators and attendance staff, as well as employees managing student information systems and attendance communications. The advice, which includes timelines and considerations for management, costs, vendor agreements and system capacities, are specifically for texting parents of elementary-aged students.
Two approaches are suggested:
- Basic. These messages can be sent to all parents to emphasize the importance of school attendance. They can be automated and prescheduled. Basic messages can also be same-day notifications to parents whose children were absent that day and can also include the total number of absences the student has over the year.
"Children who miss 2 or more days a month starting in elementary school are less likely to graduate from high school."
Basic sample text to parents
- Intensified. These messages to parents can be interactive and two-way communications that provide more detailed information about their child's attendance. They can be sent from a specific staff member who offers their contact information to discuss individualized supports. Intensified messages could also be weekly automated texts asking parents to set goals for perfect attendance for the upcoming week.
"Dear Caregiver/Guardian, This is Ms. Wilson, a school counselor. Brian has missed 14 days of school so far this year. Please text or call me back at xxx-xxx-xxxx so we can set up a time to talk. I am here to help. Thank you."
Intensified sample text messaging to a parent
Other tips in the toolkit for school attendance texts to parents include:
- Keep text messages to fewer than 160 characters. If more characters are needed, consider sending two short messages in rapid sequence.
- Use abbreviations only if they are easily understood.
- Avoid emojis because they are not viewed as professional.
- Make sure messages are culturally and linguistically sensitive.
- Send messages in parents' native languages.
- Ensure messages are actionable, tailored and personalized depending on the student's circumstances.