How to Improve School Attendance

A Practical Guide for Schools and School Districts
A Project of the Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council


Module 1: Attendance Part 3

Positive Rewards

Low-cost or no-cost re­wards and incen­tives for good  attend­ance, de­vel­oped by the Los Angeles Unified School District, are listed in Table 1.(16)

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Table 1.



Protocol for Action Prior to Initiating SARB Process

In keeping with the SATF's re­com­mendation to utilize SARB (School Attendance Review Board) referrals only after docu­mented inter­ventions have not worked—and only in con­nection with mental health and other resource-based strategies.

In general, the steps to the protocol include:

 Square Bullet Parent contact (required) by phone or in person

 Square Bullet First tardy or truant letter sent

 Square Bullet Parent contact (required) by phone or in person

 Square Bullet Second tardy or truant letter sent; SART (School Attendance Review Team) meeting sched­uled

 Square Bullet SART meeting held

If truancies/excessive tardies continue after the SART meeting:

 Square Bullet Eight verbal or written contacts with the parent/guardian are required to proceed. Phone messages or messages to the office do not count.

 Square Bullet Refer to SARB and submit the ap­propriate paper­work.

 Square Bullet A SARB appointment is scheduled. If a translator is needed, one should be provided by the school site or elsewhere in the school district.

 Square Bullet The SARB meeting is held.

If the problem persists, a referral to the District Attorney is made. (Twenty unexcused absences and/or tardies of 30 minutes or more are required for a D.A. referral.)

Figure 15 shows a progression of suggested procedures (17)

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Figure 15.

Sample absence protocols are included in Module 1 Appendix D: Sample Protocols for Con­secu­tive Absences, and in Module 1 Appendix E: Sample Protocols for Sporadic Absences.

Sample letters home are included in Module 1 Appendix F: Sample Letters Home (Alhambra), and in Module 1 Appendix G: Sample Letters Home (Los Angeles).


Professional Development

Offering professional develop­ment and trainings around attend­ance-related issues is vital to the success of any program. In Alhambra Unified School District's Gateway to Success initiative—developed in col­labor­ation with Alliant Inter­national University via a 2008 Department of Health and Human Services' Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant—staff receive half-day seminars on topics of interest.


16 Los Angeles Unified School District
17 Adapted from Alhambra Unified School District

Professional Development continued

Figure 16 shows a sample schedule. (18)

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Figure 16.


Making Use of Data

The National Forum on Educa­tion Statistics has developed an attendance code taxonomy that is an exhaustive, mutually exclusive set of codes that document a student's attend­ance status at any given time (Figure 17).19 The forum reminds users, however, that:

 Square Bullet Attendance codes are not enough. The categories do not include all the information a school district should maintain about a student's attend­ance— the time period for which atten­dance is recorded, for instance. (Does an entry reflect attendance status at one time during the day? For some portion of the school day, as when a student is absent for doctor's appointment in the morning but present in the afternoon? During each class period?) Users will also have to make judgment calls about how to classify unusual attendance situations.

 Square Bullet This guide works best with an automated student information system.

 Square Bullet This guide is not intended to change state and local attend­ance policies.

 Square Bullet This guide does not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. All absences reduce a student's opportunity to learn. The distinction between excused and unexcused absences(20) is made by state and district policy­makers, who also deter­mine the conse­quences associated with un­excused absences. Users should sup­plement the codes with an indic­ation of whether the type of absence is excused or unexcused.

Figures 17a through 17c.(19)

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Figure 17a.

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Figure 17b.

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Figure 17c.


A number of electronic attend­ance-data collection and reporting systems are available.

Figure 18a through 18c shows the Quick Guide from MyData, the system used by the Los Angeles Unified School District.(21)

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Figure 18a.

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Figure 18b.

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Figure 18c.



18 Alhambra Unified School District
19 Narrative adapted from: National Forum on Education Statistics. (2009). Every School Day Counts: The Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Attendance Data (NFES 2009–804). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
20 The National Center for Education Statistics Handbooks Online provides the following definitions:
Excused absence: "A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity, but is temporarily excused from attendance because he or she:
   a. is ill and attendance in school would endanger his or her health or the health of others;
   b. has an immediate family member who is seriously ill or has died;
   c. is observing a recognized religious holiday of his or her faith;
   d. is otherwise excused from school in accordance with board policies."
Unexcused absence: "A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity without acceptable cause, parental knowledge, or author­ization from the school administrator or his or her agent."

Making Use of Data continued

Figure 19 shows a sample attendance Improvement Meter Action Plan form submitted periodically, based on LAUSD's collected data.(22)

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Figure 19.


Figure 20 shows a sample attendance Improvement Program Summary of Services Form that is also submitted periodically, based on attendance and other data. (23)

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Figure 20.


Samples of LAUSD's data-reporting tools and processes are included in Module 1 Appendix K: Data Evaluation, Planning, and Tracking Tools.


Available Guides, Manuals, and Toolkits

Square Bullet A comprehensive School Attend­ance Improve­ment Handbook was released in 2000 by the Safe Schools and Violence Prevention Office of the California Department of Education.

 Square Bullet Attendance Works is a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. It ecommends tracking chronic absence data for each student beginning in kindergarten (or ideally earlier) and partnering with families and community agencies to intervene when poor attendance is a problem for students or schools.

 Square Bullet The organi­zation's ex­treme­ly com­prehen­sive document, Make Every Day Count: Sending the Right Message About Attendance to Parents and Students, may be downloaded from the ECC School Attendance Task Force Tools page. As the report's overview states, "Whether you're launching an at­tend­ance cam­paign, re­leasing chronic absence data, or simply plan­ning a back-to-school night, it's impor­tant to convey the right mes­sage about attend­ance to the parents and students. Attend­ance messaging helps build a habit and a cul­ture of attend­ance by helping everyone under­stand why going to school regular­ly matters and what they can do to ensure stu­dents are in school." The toolkit offers key concepts, tips, and ex­amples on crafting mes­sages to parents, students, and other audi­ences, who conveys those messages, and how—including strategies for direct outreach to parents, incentives for stu­dents, logos and slogans, public service announce­ments, bill­boards, media out­reach, and web­sites and social media.

 Square Bullet Other, more targeted, attendance-related toolkits developed by the Los Angeles Unified School District are also available from the Toolkits section ECC School Attendance Task Force Tools page.

 Square Bullet The Los Angeles Unified School District's Attendance Manual: Policy & Procedures for Elementary, Secondary and Option Schools is also available as a downloadable pdf.


Documents Every District Should Have

Table 2 presents a checklist of documents all districts should have.

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Table 2.



21,22, 23 Los Angeles Unified School District Attendance Improvement Program, Pupil Services

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