Attendance Matters, states the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Truancy Prevention and Intervention webpage. Missing just two school days a month makes a student more likely to drop out.
One of the greatest challenges to improving graduation rates in central New Mexico is the persistently high rates of habitual truancy. Under the leadership of Dr. Kristine Meurer, Executive Director of the Student, Family, and Community Supports Division, APS has risen to meet this challenge.
“Our approach to truancy is one of early intervention,” says Dr. Meurer. “Determine the root causes of truancy and build an Attendance Success Plan with the student, family and school. This approach is non-punitive and has been successful in bringing students back to school and keeping them in school.”
With support from district staff, truancy advisors, case managers, work-study students, and social workers, APS has begun implementing a Truancy Prevention and Intervention initiative, which recognizes that the causes of truancy are complex and often require personalized solutions to address the individual needs of each student and his or her family.
The state of New Mexico defines habitual truancy at the student level as having 10 or more days of unexcused absences during a given school year, but according to national research, whether an absence is excused or unexcused, missing school for any reason can negatively impact a student’s success in school. In short, absences add up, and by the time a student gets to high school, school attendance is one of three key “early warning indicators” that predicts the likelihood of graduating from high school.
During the 2014-15 school year, 12.3% of all students in APS were habitually truant, with the highest truancy rates in high school. Given the size of APS (93,001 enrolled students during the 2014-15 school year), addressing the district’s attendance challenges requires a comprehensive and district-wide approach to improve school attendance rates at every grade level.
Purpose and Goals
APS’s Truancy Prevention and Intervention initiative is a district-wide strategy with the goal of decreasing habitual truancy at all grade levels. The strategy is fundamentally supportive, not punitive, and it recognizes the multiple underlying causes of poor school attendance. Using a wellness approach, the initiative prioritizes early identification, intervention, and referral to school-based and community resources and programs.
The Truancy Prevention and Intervention initiative has focused its efforts on a set of implementation schools: eight elementary, seven middle, and eight high schools in the 2014-15 school year. By the 120th day of that school year, truancy team members had made more than 10,000 phone and in-person contacts with 2,234 students in the implementation schools. These were students who showed early signs of truancy (five or more days missed) and faced a variety of challenges in their lives that caused them to miss school, ranging from family mental health issues to academic failure or conflicting work schedules.
Strategies Used to Achieve Goals
Social workers: Truancy social workers are assigned to the implementation schools. With the support of district staff and work-study students, the social workers provide intervention, referral, and advocacy services to students and their families. The social workers’ level of licensure allows for more intensive interventions, often addressing serious economic needs, mental health issues, substance abuse, and traumatic experiences.
Early and follow-up contacts: Robo-calls go home after two unexcused absences. School administrators and teachers are encouraged to make phone calls home at three and four unexcused absences. At five unexcused absences, APS staff reaches out, and assesses the core causes of truancy. The social worker then coordinates planning, referrals, and follow-up.
Use of data: At the beginning of the school year, the truancy prevention staff meet with key school staff to clarify data-collection and data-entry responsibilities to ensure that accurate and timely attendance data are available. Truancy prevention staff review student attendance data every week and identify students who should receive phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or home visits. All contacts are tracked by truancy prevention staff, including documentation of referrals and needed follow-up.
Data Snapshot at the 120th School Day
How much do we do?
- By the 120th school day in the 2014-15 school year, APS made 10,008 contacts or attempted contacts with 2,234 different students in the 23 schools that were part of the program.
How well do we do It?
- Of the 2,234 students that the truancy team attempted to contact, 28% received one contact (or attempt); 47% received between two and five; 17% received between six and 10; and 8% received more than 10.
- Of the 2,234 students that the truancy team attempted to contact, 329 were never successfully contacted, 500 were contacted and either left or transferred schools, and 37 had data issues. The remaining 1,368 were successfully contacted and are included in the impact analysis below.
Is anyone better off?
- Of the 1,368 students with complete data, all of whom showed early signs of truancy, 51% did not become habitually truant by the 120th school day.
- At the 120th day of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, there were 16,216 fewer unexcused absences in the 23 schools that were part of the program.
- At the 120th day, the decrease in unexcused absences was greatest in the high schools that were part of the program, with a decrease in the average number of unexcused absences per student from 6.6 during the 2013-14 school year to 5.5 during the 2014-15 school year.
Phone: (505) 855-9850
Data are presented using a Results-Based Accountability framework. See http://resultsleadership.org.
 Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). The importance of being in school: A report on absenteeism in the nation’s public schools. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools. For more, see www.attendanceworks.org.
 Neild, R. C., Balfanz, R., & Herzog, L. (2007). An early warning system. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 28-33.
To be selected as a Bright Spot, a program had to provide evidence that children or adults touched by their interventions were better off after participating. While the strength of evidence varied from program to program, all Bright Spots were able to show – at minimum – a correlation between participation in their program and positive outcomes. Those with stronger evidence provided pre- and post-data on participants in comparison to a similar group that did not participate.