The state of Rhode Island is rolling out new initiatives to address chronic absenteeism in its school systems, including putting place new partnerships, incentives, and enhanced data tools.

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has launched the Attendance Matters RI campaign which will inform stakeholders of the importance of daily attendance and the consequences of chronic absenteeism, and energize students, families, and educators to promote good attendance.

“Addressing chronic absenteeism is an all-hands-on-deck effort. It is our collective responsibility to reinforce the importance of regular school attendance and inspire students to stay engaged in their education. That is exactly why we launched Learn365RI,” said Gov. Dan McKee.

“We share our gratitude with the families, school, district, municipal, state, business, and community leaders who are working diligently to increase outreach and incentives to boost attendance and improve student outcomes,” he said. “My administration encourages all Rhode Islanders to spread the message, explore RIDE’s data tools, and join this critical effort to make sure our kids are learning and can succeed.”

State leaders said that new and enhanced data tools will provide a comprehensive overview of attendance and absenteeism rates across a variety of demographics and will feature real-time reporting capabilities and interactive visualizations. With that detailed data analysis, state officials said schools and other stakeholders can pinpoint the students most at risk of chronic absenteeism and develop targeted interventions to address their unique needs.

The governor’s office noted in a press release that RIDE staff worked with the Governor’s Innovation Office to develop the Attendance Tool in 2018. Unique to this suite of tools is the Attendance Nudge, a mobile application that allows principals to communicate with families when student absences become a concern. While this tool was initially launched under a pilot program, starting with this school year it is now in use in more than 261 schools across 59 school districts.

In addition to using enhanced data analytics to curb chronic absenteeism, the state is also using pizza, ice cream, and doughnuts to reward students for coming to school. Local businesses also have signed up to help spread the message about attendance and promote good attendance habits. RIDE said it is using its website to spread the word about what companies are offering treats for good attendance and what rewards each school is offering.

“As a former school counselor, educator, and administrator, I am acutely aware of the systemic issues that impact student attendance, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Patti DiCenso. “It is heartening to see the Rhode Island community come together to address this issue and, in particular, improve and enhance public-facing data. By examining absenteeism data on a granular level, our communities will become even more empowered to address the issue head-on.”

“An educated and engaged community creates an environment in which students are more likely to thrive,” said Chair of the Board of Education Michael Grey. “On behalf of the Board, I extend my gratitude to Governor McKee and Commissioner Infante-Green for prioritizing cross-sector collaboration and innovative data tools that, when used effectively, can help improve outcomes and prepare students for success. Additionally, we are tremendously grateful for the businesses who are promoting good attendance. Every effort counts, as each gesture, no matter how small, reflects a commitment to the wellbeing of our kids and our state.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs