IMPROVING STUDENT ATTENDANCE AT CENTRAL
by Amber Spencer

The goal of my action research project was to determine the effects of Central’s Morning Meeting on student attendance, therefore determining if we needed to implement alternative solutions to decrease student absences and tardies. Central ranked the lowest among elementary schools in student attendance in the Ferguson-Florissant School District last school year. Central’s ADA (Average Daily Attendance) at the end of the 2015-16 school year was 94.3 % and our 90/90 attendance was 88.7%.  One challenge Central’s leadership team wanted to address this school year was improving student attendance and reducing student absences and tardies.  Attending school regularly is a critical component of educational success. Our goal at Central is to reach 95% or better for both ADA and 90/90 by working to create a school culture and climate where students are excited about learning and coming to school on time each day.

Research has shown that there is a high correlation between student attendance and academic performance and success. Being present at school each day plays a significant role in high performance and student achievement.  With this research in mind, Central leadership team implemented a plan to improve student achievement. This plan included a school-wide Morning Meeting where all students gather in the gym to participate in activities that foster group cohesion and help students practice social and academic skills. The purpose of Morning Meeting was to get students excited about coming to school each day, while building a positive sense of community. Central’s Morning Meeting includes the following activities:  dancing, reviewing PBIS expectations, recognizing student and staff birthdays, highlighting and acknowledging student achievements, Central’s 50-Day Referral-Free Challenge, daily school announcements and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and Central’s school chant.
I collected three sources of data to determine if Central’s Morning Meeting was helping to improve student attendance. The first source of data was Central’s Attendance Report. This report tracks our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) as well as 90/90 attendance. Secondly, I created a survey using Google Forms, asking 151 students in grades 3-6 the following questions:

  1. Do you enjoy participating in Central’s Morning Meeting?
  2. Does Morning Meeting make you want to come to school each day on time?
  3. What is your favorite part of Morning Meeting?
  4. What is one thing you want to add to Morning Meeting?

Lastly, I conducted a focus group with 13 students in grades K-6 who have had a significant number of absences and/or tardies since the start of the school year. I asked these students the following questions:

  1. Does Morning Meeting make you want to come to school each day on time,
  2. When you miss morning meeting, does it make you feel happy, sad, or do you care?
  3. Is Morning meeting an important part of your day?
  4. What is one thing you want to add to Morning Meeting?

Central’s Attendance Report shows that our year-to-date ADA is 95.9% and our 90/90 attendance rate is 91.1%. Both percentages are greater than the baseline data we started with. The data from the Google Form survey indicated that 72.1% of the students enjoyed Morning Meeting, 60.7% of students said that Morning Meeting makes them want to come to school on time each day, 58.1% said that dancing was their favorite part of Morning Meeting and several of the students wanted to add things like picking out the songs, talking to friends more, dancing longer and singing. The focus group data showed that 100% of the students looked forward to coming to school today, 100% percent of students felt sad if they missed morning meeting because they were tardy or absent, and that 100% of these students said that morning meeting is an important part of their day. They wanted to add reading with a friend, exercising and playing games to Morning Meeting.
The data collected shows that Morning Meeting plays a great part in helping to improve and increase Central’s student attendance rate.  Data indicates that a large number of students enjoy Central’s Morning Meeting and look forward to coming to school each day on time to participate in Morning Meeting with their peers. The data also shows that several of our students want to add activities like playing games and reading with a friend to our Morning Meeting. They feel that these activities will make Morning Meeting more exciting in the future.
This was my first time doing an action research project, and it was a very eye-opening experience.  First, it showed me the importance of using data routinely to guide improvement efforts within your school. Secondly, it helped me realize the importance of being reflective in my practice to ensure that best practices are in place to help support the school’s mission and goals.  Reviewing the data from this action research project has led my school’s leadership team to take a closer look into what we are doing to improve student attendance. It has also helped us to examine our next steps to continue to increase attendance and decrease chronic absences.  We have learned that if we want our attendance to improve, we have to continue to implement positive practices and activities that support good attendance. We have decided to restructure Central’s Morning Meeting to include some of the activities and ideas the students suggested, we will continue to communicate our attendance goals and expectations to all parents through newsletters and School Messenger and we also plan to reward students who exhibit great and/or improved attendance quarterly. We hope that these ideas are a step in the right direction in improving our student attendance rates.