Better Climate Equals Higher Attendance

With as many as 7.5 million U.S. students missing 18 days of school each year, Attendance Works organized the Network to Advance State Attendance Policy and Practice, a forum for leaders across the country to exchange ideas about increasing attendance in their states and school districts.

Georgia’s education leaders have been active in the Network since its launch in 2013 and have helped to change the conversation about this national challenge. This spring, Dr. Garry McGiboney, deputy superintendent of external affairs in the Georgia Department of Education, shared how Georgia is working to increase attendance.

In 2012, when McGiboney and others analyzed student level data on attendance and achievement, they determined that missing more than six days – whether excused, unexcused, or suspension – had a significant impact on both subject-specific test scores and high school graduation. The department tracks the number and percent of students who miss fewer than 5 days, between 6 and 15 days, and more than 15 days of school each year. The department separates this data by race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, limited English proficiency, gender, and disability. Since 2010, the state has increased the percentage of students missing fewer than six days by 3.9 points to reach 60.7 percent.

“Improving school attendance by recognizing the importance of school climate is a purpose with a promise,” McGiboney says. “The promise is more students graduating from high school.”

Implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a key strategy for increasing attendance in Georgia. PBIS is an evidence-based, data-driven framework that has been proven to reduce unnecessary discipline and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety and learning in classrooms and across schools. As of this school year (2014-2015) PBIS was being implemented in 30 counties across the state. Leaders in the GaDOE are providing training and technical assistance in PBIS to school districts and recent state investments in the infrastructure provided by Georgia’s 16 Regional Educational Service Agencies have diffused that support out across the state. These efforts to improve school climate have contributed to an 11-point increase in the state graduation rate and a 3-point increase in grade-level reading since 2009.

Building on this success, the Get Georgia Reading Campaign convened partners in 2014 to launch an innovative prototype that is extending these efforts to promote positive school climates into early learning centers.

— Sarah Torian