Attendance Wall, Data-Informed Communications Strategies Drive Student Attendance at Moffet

Attendance—or, more accurately, chronic absenteeism—is an issue in Philadelphia schools. Defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, chronic student absenteeism in Philadelphia schools has reached unprecedented levels. On average, district schools identified a 17 percentage point increase in the rate of chronically absent students in K–8 and a 7 percentage point increase in high schools in the 2021–2022 school year over pre-pandemic rates.

Attendance is a key factor in student success—a primary priority for education and, accordingly, for principals. Students who aren’t in school aren’t learning.

Because attendance is a key initiative for so many of Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders’ program participants, PASL has distilled data from Neubauer Fellow-led schools, identifying trends and effective practices and creating tools that support efforts to improve attendance.

Leaders who successfully improved attendance implemented the following strategies:

  • Identifying accessible, easily tracked attendance goals
  • Communicating routinely to engage students and their families
  • Gamifying attendance and incentivizing positive behavior
  • Creating a welcoming, safe, culturally responsive learning environment so students want to attend school

Additionally, PASL Director of Data and Evaluation Sam Koshy introduced an attendance tracker, an easy-to-use digital tool that simplifies the attendance status of students in real time, so principals can easily determine if student are on track to meet attendance goals.

John Moffet School Principal Rodney Johnson, 2022 Neubauer Fellow, employed these proven practices in his efforts to improve attendance. Starting in the 2022–2023 school year, he and School-Based Teacher Leader and Attendance Designee Elizabeth Gomez implemented a driving-themed attendance tracker on the wall of a main hallway at the school. The “race” is depicted as occurring on local interstate I-95, also a nod to the goal attendance rate of 95 percent or more days.

The school also incentivized attendance, offering fun experiences and special events—including a petting zoo and a magic show—for students meeting attendance goals.

“We just started brainstorming, reflecting on the previous school year and thinking about all the things that we wanted to implement,” said Johnson. “We had named the hallways, and Attendance Hallway had come up. I said, ‘I think we should do I-95,’ and [Gomez] ran with it.”

“I took his idea and started thinking about it, Googling ideas,” said Gomez, “I came up with the concept of going grade by grade. I discovered the [road] tape existed. I found race car banners and I-95 signs. It all just came together.”

The school’s efforts to improve attendance also incorporated engaging families through various communications and outreach.

“Ms. Gomez and I talked about all the things that parents need; they need information so they can understand the importance of attendance,” said Johnson.

Working with SDP’s Central Office, Johnson and Gomez created a one-page document educating parents on attendance goals, clearly defining excused and unexcused absences, and highlighting the impact of the loss of instructional time—a document now shared with all the district schools as an effective practice.

“That one-pager came about because of Ms. Gomez and the attendance wall, looking at attendance and talking about, ‘What do parents need to know, do they have all the information they need? How do we hold parents accountable?’” said Johnson.

That initial outreach to families sets a foundation of information and an expectation surrounding student attendance—but that’s not the only outreach families receive surrounding attendance. Utilizing PASL’s attendance tracker, Moffet leaders monitor attendance throughout the year, and are able to provide individual, updated attendance data to families as part of the ongoing engagement.

“Each month, I’m able to print a report that includes an overall attendance percentage for the students,” said Gomez, who created a sheet for each individual student. Those data sets are used to not only keep the I-95 race wall current, engaging students in an easy-to-rad, visually appealing, instantly gratifying way, but also to correspond with parents.

“Every parent receives correspondence about how many days their child had attended,” said Johnson.

“Midyear, we updated what we sent to families with each individual students’ calculator,” said Gomez. “It broke down for students whether they were meeting the 95 percent attendance goal, how many days they could spare to be absent to stay in that zone, or whether they were in the negative or below that goal. If they’d already slipped under the 95 percent goal, it gave them information on how to remain above 90 percent.”

The goal for the duo is to distribute a quarterly attendance report to families.

For Johnson and Gomez, the additional outreach served as another way to boost awareness, engage families, and, in some instances, initiate important dialogue.

“We wanted to grab their attention and make them realize attendance is being monitored. And not just by us, but by the district. These are district policies and goals, and attendance does have an impact on their student’s overall success.”
Elizabeth Gomez
School-Based Teacher Leader and Attendance Designee

The Moffet staff disseminate the information with materials sent home with the students, via email, and via Dojo, the district’s communications platform, also sending communications in real time when warranted. As per district guidelines, a letter goes out after a third absence; after a sixth unexcused absence, a meeting invitation is sent home. They hold a conference and work with the student to create an attendance plan, and parents are invited (although not mandated) to attend.

“We try to ensure that we’ve informed families to the best of our ability, that they’re given the opportunity to discuss the matter with us and provide input, to create the plan together as a partner,” said Gomez. School staff work diligently to discuss barriers to attendance, identify solutions, and craft individual attendance plans. Following this outreach, Gomez and Johnson have seen remarkable improvement in the next marking period for some students. According to Gomez, the majority of students who were on track to be considered truant by the district are not referred following the school’s intervention. “We will do whatever we can to help prevent having to refer students to truancy,” said Gomez.

Johnson noted an improvement in overall attendance, and particularly in the 4th grade, that started the first year the attendance-focused plan was rolled out. Moffet continues to outperform district averages in attendance by as much as 23 percentage points, and gains in student achievement have also been identified. In 2022–2023, more Moffet students scored Proficient or Advanced than expected in ELA (+14.2%), Math (+5.8%), and Science (+20.0%) Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores.

“There are still challenges,” said Johnson. “The challenges we see vary. Some deal with things that go on outside of the school, things that we don’t have any control over. But we keep educating and nudging, nudging and educating.”