How CPS is trying to improve attendance

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Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.