A new report by ExpandED Schools highlights the fact that learning time is often cut short as the school year winds down, with elementary and middle schools in New York City showing as much as a 6% drop in attendance between April and June.
Missing time in school is the problem that ExpandED Schools is working to correct — the group's motto is "Close the learning gap. Open the world." The organization wants to build education enrichment into a lengthened school day to include extra time for learning activities. By doing so, students can have improved educational outcomes both in school and also in future endeavors.
ExpandED has offered specific procedures that will increase learning time and attendance statistics — and the results of these plans will include accelerating performance in the next grade level, minimizing summer learning loss, and increasing student engagement.
In their resource guide, Avoiding the Attendance Slump: Strategies to Maximize Learning Time in June, ExpandED Schools calls this pattern the "Spring Slide and the June Slump." Even though many think that when standardized tests are completed, the school year ends as well, but 20% of the academic year remains.
Data shows a 5.8 percentage point difference between April attendance rates and June levels. And in schools that are struggling, the attendance numbers are even more troubling. In these at-risk schools, students miss an average of 1.6 days a month between September and April. But young people in these schools are missing an average 3.3 days in June. The 3.3 average attendance rate is three times higher than the rates in April, which is the month of state exams.
Leaders in ExpandED Schools were asked for insight into raising monthly attendance for schools that had significant absences from April to June, along with ideas for learning from schools that showed high monthly presence of pupils throughout the academic year. Teachers were asked to share what they thought were the reasons for the attendance drops. High school teachers said that the events of early June or mid-June, such as prom and graduation, were part of the problem.
Teachers are focused on using the last two weeks of school to clean their classrooms, finish paperwork, finalize grades and complete end-of-year projects, all of which takes momentum away from learning.
At times, the report says, parents take students out of school to get a head start on summer vacation, which reinforces that many parents seem not to value the final days of school. This activity appears to occur more often at schools that lean toward winding down during the month of June.
Field trips, though sometimes an incentive for attending the last weeks of school, can cause low-income students, students with behavioral infractions, or those with poor attendance records to stay away from school on trip days. And many after-school programs do not run their classes into the final weeks of the academic year.
ExpandED Schools were shown to be less likely to have these attendance barriers and offered a variety of strategies that would result in making every day of school valuable.
From April through June at PS 247 in Brooklyn, every fifth-grader is partnered with a kindergarten pupil to mentor and to act as a buddy. At the end of the school year, they are given a "Leader in Training" certificate.
Some schools have spirit weeks to build positive school culture, to keep kids engaged, and to meet non-academic goals. Other schools use the preparation and participation in end-of-year shows to keep young people invested. The students become enthusiastic and use the performances as a farewell to the school year.
At MS 223 in the Bronx, there are four school trips planned for the month of June. The objective is to engage young ones and to include all students. Other schools are moving end-of-year ceremonies to the final days of school.
ExpandED Schools add that engaging parents, teachers, and students in the effort to keep attendance high at the end of the year was imperative. This effort might include awarding parents with monthly certificates for getting their children to school on time, having a staff team at the schools' doors to greet students each morning, or publicly acknowledging students who have good attendance.
When a school offers new instructional techniques, accelerated lessons to prepare students for the coming school year, or offers applied and hands-on learning activities when they are winding up their school years, the likelihood of pupils wanting to be present increases.
Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works said, "We applaud ExpandED Schools for producing this insightful look into an under-recognized piece of the attendance puzzle. We've seen similar patterns in other school districts, but no one has documented how some schools avoid this slump. We hope city and district leaders will use the strategies outlined in this brief to recapture this critical learning time."