ATLANTA—Many chronically absent kindergarten through 12th grade students return to school when their parents receive personalized text and email messages alerting them to their child’s absence, a study by Georgia State University’s Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education (MAPLE) shows.
More than one in 10 Georgia students are chronically absent, missing more than 15 days of classes during a school year.
MAPLE partnered with four Georgia school districts during the 2018-19 school year to see whether attendance would improve among students on track to be chronically absent if their parents were contacted. More than 8,900 parents of these students received more than 38,000 texts and emails through the schools’ low-cost messaging platforms.
“Chronically absent students struggle academically, and their parents may be unaware of the extent of their absences and the detrimental effect they have on their success,” said Tareena Musaddiq, a co-author of the study with Alexa Prettyman and Jonathan Smith, an assistant professor of economics. Musaddiq and Prettyman are doctoral candidates in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
Every month of the school year, from November to May, participating schools messaged parents of those students on track to be chronically absent about their children’s absence from school (by name), informed them how many days they had missed to date and reported where that placed their attendance record among those of their peers, percentile-wise. The messages ended with the reminder, “Students with fewer absences are more likely to graduate.”
This messaging decreased chronic absenteeism (being absent for 15 or more days in a school year) by nearly eight percent, putting these students back in the classroom, on average, one additional day.
Somewhat surprisingly, the research also found that the schools had valid mobile numbers and email addresses for only half the parents in their districts. Students with the greatest outreach needs, those with higher absences, were the hardest to contact.
“Our research shows that school districts possess a powerful tool in low-cost messaging platforms that can turn this issue around,” said Musaddiq. “School districts, by including and continuously updating the contact information for all their constituencies, can look for opportunities to expand the functionality of their platforms to improve student outcomes in several areas.”