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Ninth grade student attendance: Teacher perceptional study

Author: Barbara A. Caldwell
Excessive student absenteeism among ninth graders was a major problem within a metropolitan Georgia high school. In order to solve the attendance problem and several other academic concerns, the school administration implemented a smaller learning community for ninth grade students. The Ninth Grade Academy concept implemented at the beginning of 2006 school year included a series of intervention strategies, in particular teacher involvement and incentive activities focusing on increased attendance and reduced truancy. The purpose of this triangulation mixed method study was to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of two of the intervention strategies used in the Ninth Grade Academy to increase daily attendance. The study also showed there was a significant difference in ninth grade attendance between the two periods before the implementation of the intervention strategies 2004-2006, and the period during the implementation of the intervention strategies 2006-2008.

Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv List of Tables viii List of Figures x CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction of the Problem 1 Background of the Study 2 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 4 Rationale 5 Research Questions 7 Significance of the Study 7 Definition of Terms 8 Assumptions 11 Limitations 13 Nature of the Study 13 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 14 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 16 Introduction 16 Theory and Context 16 Factors Related to School Attendance 22 Reports of Attendance Rates 29 National Reform Movements 29

vi Ninth Grade Transition 36 Small Learning Communities/Ninth Grade Academies 39 Intervention Plans 45 Incentive Activities 49 Parent Centers 53 Summary 56 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 57 Introduction 57 Statement of the Problem 57 Research Questions 58 Research Methodology 58 Research Design 59 Population and Sampling Procedures 60 Sources of Data 61 Validity 62 Panel of Experts Response 62 Reliability 63 Panel of Experts Response 63 Data Collection Procedures 64 Data Analysis Procedures 65 Ethical Consideration 66 Summary 66

vii CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 67 Introduction 67 Descriptive Data 68 Data Analysis 76 Results 78 Summary 89 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS 91 Introduction 91 Summary of the study 92 Summary of Findings and Conclusions 94 Recommendations 99 Recommendations for Future Research 99 Recommendation for Practice 101 Implications 102 REFERENCES 104 APPENDIX A. SURVEY QUESTIONS 110


viii List of Tables Table 1. Ninth Grade Academy Tardy Policy decreased absences and tardiness 68

Table 2. Receiving daily absence and tardy reports helps to identify At-Risk Students 69

Table 3. Reports help target chronic student absences and tardiness 70

Table 4. Ninth Grade Academy has improved student attendance in past four years 70

Table 5. School system provides enough professional development opportunities 71

Table 6. Ninth Grade Academy has made a difference in student behavior 71

Table 7. Ninth Grade Academy makes a difference in student academic improvement 72

Table 8. Ninth Grade Academy before and after tutorials are helpful 72

Table 9. Student of the Month Award and pizza parties reduce students’ absences 73

Table 10. Ninth Grade Academy Teacher Advisory improves communication 74

Table 11. Survey Internal Reliability Coefficient: Cronbach’s Alpha 78

Table 12. Median ratings for items linked to Research Question I 79

Table 13. Mean and standard deviation for Research Question I 80

Table 14. Median ratings for items linked to Research Question II 83

Table 15. Mean and standard deviation for Research Question III 84

Table 16. Independent Sample “t” Test: Pre-intervention vs. Post-intervention 87

Table 17. Independent Samples “t” Test: Pre-intervention vs. First year of implementation 87

Table 18. Independent Samples “t” Test: Pre-intervention vs. Second year of implementation 88


Table 19. Independent Sample “t” Test: Pre-intervention vs. Third year of implementation 88


List of Figures Figure 1. Mean number of days absent over time 75

Figure 2. Mean number of days absent before and after implementation 75

Figure 3. Distribution of overall perceptions regarding intervention strategies 81

Figure 4. Distribution of overall perceptions regarding student outcomes 85

1 CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Introduction of the Problem School districts around the world continue raising standards in an effort to improve the quality of student education. Clear evidence proves that in order to improve student academic achievement, it is also necessary to reduce absenteeism among the students who are attempting to meet academic standards. Raising the level of pupils’ overall attendance has proven difficult at every level (9-12) and attendance has changed very little over the last twenty years, despite the considerable range of initiatives and interventions attempted by the Department of Education, the school districts, and the local school leadership teams (National Audit Office Report, 2005). Researchers have recommended that attendance strategies should begin with the ninth grade year. According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), approximately two-thirds of the ninth grade students who begin high school will graduate on time (National Audit Office Report, 2005). Students who fail to graduate face few employment prospects as they lack the basic education necessary to obtain employment and perform the duties of a regular job. Attendance problems will have a tremendous impact on the future of American society, as these students leaving school may become dependent on social programs to avoid homelessness, provide for their children, and obtain other necessities of daily living. In order to prepare students to be independent of government assistance, schools throughout America must address the problem of school attendance (Greene & Winters, 2005).

2 Many factors may affect a student’s choice to drop out of school. A number of research studies support the premise that chronic absenteeism, especially truancy, is the main reason ninth grade students do not graduate from high school (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2004). Since the No Child Left Behind legislation influences each school in America, it has come to the attention of researchers and educators that one of the main goals of all school districts is to reduce absenteeism during the first year of high school. If this reduction occurs during the ninth grade, the chances of a student dropping out before graduation will reduce significantly (Fulk, 2003). The main idea here is to teach students good attendance habits early so they will be more successful later. A discrepancy in the research seems to exist with regard to the effectiveness of programs that attempt to reduce absenteeism in high school, especially with the ninth grade students. Therefore, this dissertation study examined specific interventions and transitional efforts that were focused on reducing absenteeism within the ninth grade at a metropolitan Georgia high school.

Background of the Study Research shows that there is a direct correlation between school attendance, student achievement, student social growth, and student employment tenure. Many times, if a student demonstrates poor attendance in school, the same pattern is demonstrated during adulthood with poor attendance at work (Greene & Winters, 2005). School administrators across the country are facing the problem of school attendance as it affects AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), test scores, reading levels and

3 academic success. There seems to be a direct correlation between attendance, student achievement, student social growth, and ultimately student employment. It is understandable that administrators, as well as teachers, have to make changes in their respective school settings to address the attendance problem and help students achieve academic success. The rationale for change in education seems to be based on the following premises (a) even if the status quo is not necessarily bad, there is usually room for improvement, (b) while all change does not necessarily lead to improvement, improvement is not likely to occur without change, (c) unless we attempt change, we are not likely to know whether a proposed innovation is better than the status quo, and (d) participation in the change process can result in greater understanding and appreciation of the desirable features of the status quo and can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of, and skill in, the change process itself (Gorton, Alston & Snowden, 2007). Administrators and school experts have not only identified issues that may contribute to student absenteeism, they have also offered implications for designing continuum of building-level approaches to resolve the absentee problem. An administrator should not be intimidated by the challenges of creating an effective school culture and climate. Instead, the focus should be on maintaining an accurate understanding of the school’s culture and direction and of those factors influencing its development (Gorton, Alston & Snowden, 2007). In 2005, a metropolitan Georgia high school experienced an attendance rate of only 92% (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2007). This was the lowest attendance rate of all of the high schools in the school district. After several strategic discussions, the principal of the school decided to implement a new model that would address current

4 major concerns: low test scores, failure to reach Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for all reported ethnic and special needs groups, high truancy among ninth graders, English Language Learners (ELL) literacy problems, and negative school climate issues (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2007). All of these issues contributed to the school’s label of “Needs Improvement” according to No Child Left Behind. When teachers and counselors discover these issues, they must motivate students to pursue a good education in hopes of being employed in the future (Reid & Zhang, 2003). An example here would be a female student from a culture where marrying well means she will not have to work. In this situation the student would feel that she has no need of a good, formal education. Making schools responsible for student attendance or achievement is difficult to do; however, Reid and Zhang’s studies demonstrate that schools need to do more to appeal to students so that students will be motivated to complete their education and graduate from high school.

Statement of the Problem It was not known to what extent teachers and administrators at this metropolitan high school perceived the effectiveness of intervention strategies that were designed and implemented within the Ninth Grade Academy to increase student attendance.

Purpose of the Study One purpose of the study was to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of the building level approaches used in the Ninth Grade Academy to increase daily attendance among students. The study proposed to determine if there was a significant difference in

5 ninth grade attendance between two periods-the period before the implementation of the intervention strategies and the one during the implementation of the intervention strategies. Using incentives to encourage students to attend school was a positive strategy to increasing attendance. Students participating in afterschool programs were targeted by the school using their participation as incentives to increase school attendance. Students could only participate in those activities if they attended school. These interventions were developed based on data gathered from teachers. One intervention strategy implemented was the creation of smaller learning communities with the goal of building confidence in students within the normal classroom setting. Meaningful incentives should be long term and composed of non-punitive consequences. Often, these non-incentive programs, such as suspension, can bring negative outcomes like drop-out paths for students, thus pushing them out the door.

Rationale This study was conducted to validate and document evidence of the outcomes of the intervention strategies used in the Ninth Grade Academy to increase attendance. By continuing to contribute current information and measure the effects of interventions and building approaches used in schools, the knowledge base of attendance studies can continue to expand and move toward positive solutions that will help minimize high levels of absenteeism among ninth grade students in high schools. Marzano states that unless research and assessment are conducted on a continuing basis within the school,

6 there is little knowledge to use to go forward with the goals of the embedded problems (Marzano, 2004). Literature suggests that effective schools and districts have written policies that explicitly acknowledge the value and importance of parent and community involvement. Effective family involvement efforts link family activities to student learning goals. Through vigorous outreach, the schools seek to engage all families and the communities in which their students reside, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, migratory patterns, or parental educational background. A significant issue for schools is that they can educate the student only if the student actually comes to school. Getting the students to attend by demonstrating an interest in working with their families is important. Helping parents to connect and support their students is essential in fostering the impression of a learning environment that exists to help, rather than label a child. When examining the reasons for excessive high school absences, historical research provides several perspectives and reasons. Attendance suffers when families are struggling with lack of transportation, poor paying jobs with inflexible work hours, housing instability, inadequate health care and escalating community violence (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2004). According to Reid (2003), disengagement and lack of student motivation in the high school culture are becoming more prevalent indicators, contributing to the problem with absenteeism. Research reveals students’ negative perceptions of school life, failure to keep up with the class academic schedules, and lack of positive teacher-student relationships are also factors in students’ refusal to attend school regularly (Zhang, 2003).


Research Questions The following Research Questions guided this study: 1. What are teachers’ perceptions towards the intervention strategies in terms of their implementation and administration? The strategies at this school included a Ninth Grade Academy, teacher support, pizza parties, before and after school tutorials, and student of the month recognitions. 2. To what extent do teachers at this school believe that the attendance strategies adopted within the Ninth Grade Academy influenced ninth grade student attendance? 3. Is there a significant difference between the mean numbers of days absent of the students who attended the ninth grade traditional model from, 2004 to 2006, versus that of those ninth grade students who attended the Ninth Grade Academy model during the years 2006 to 2008?

Significance of the Study There seemed to be several issues associated with student absenteeism. To address the problem of absenteeism, teachers and administrators had to become more aware of students and how students perceived the academic setting. Teachers and administrators are often ambivalent or unsympathetic toward frequently absent students, who tend to be disruptive in class and bring down test scores when they show up on test day.

8 By answering the research questions and evaluating the collected data, the effectiveness of this metropolitan high school’s attendance strategies to increase ninth grade attendance was determined. Findings in this case allowed this metropolitan Georgia high school and its district officials to gain increased insight into what may have been a successful approach to supporting ninth grade students in transitioning to the required attendance and academic expectations of high school. The findings of this study assisted high school administrators and teachers in making research-based decisions in addressing the needs of ninth grade students. Equally important, this school’s administration and faculty used existing intervention programs to address the particular needs of ninth grade students transitioning to high school.

Definition of Terms The following terms were used operationally in this study: Absenteeism: The absence of an enrolled student from a regularly scheduled school day or the persistent absence of a student from school (Gwinnett County Public Schools 2008). Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). A series of annual guidelines and performance goals set by the state for every school district and every public school in the state of Georgia (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2008). Chronic absenteeism: Students missing fifteen or more days of school (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2008). CLASSXP: A program used to take attendance and access student information (Gwinnett County Public Schools 2008).

9 Community of Practice (CoP): Communities of practice formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger 2006). Compulsory Education Law: A law that requires children of ages six to sixteen to attend school. It places the responsibility for a child’s school attendance on the parent or guardian (Georgia School Law, 2002-08). English Language Learner ( ELL): Refers to students whose first language is not English, and encompasses students who are just beginning to learn English (often referred to in Federal Legislation as Limited English Proficient or LEP (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2008). High Schools That Work (HSTW). An effort-based school improvement initiative founded on the conviction that most students can master rigorous academic and career/technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motivates students to make the effort to succeed. A model program created for the entire high school population (Education, 2004). Intervention strategies: The methods and activities that were designed by a stakeholder committee to be implemented within the Ninth Grade Academy to increase

10 daily attendance rates among ninth grade students (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2008). No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The legislation act emphasizes increasing need- based statistical evidence to support claims and beliefs about instructional practices. The new law requires all states to establish state academic standards and a state testing system that meets federal requirements (Owens, 2004). Ninth Grade Academy: A yearlong uniquely designed school program that provides ninth graders with the resources and support they need. A great deal of flexibility exists in creating models for supporting ninth grade students (Fulk, 2003). Parent Center: A group of volunteers and counselors who are the first resource for contacts in a school. This group was created to influence the academic achievement of each student by creating an environment that strengthens parental involvement and provides resources for parents (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2007). Smaller Learning Communities: Smaller learning communities sometimes referred to as houses of families. They are created within larger high schools for the purpose of making the school environment feel smaller with the hope of improving the learning environment for all students (U.S. Dept of Education, 2001-07). Student Attendance Protocol Committee: A committee established by the chief judge of the superior court of each county for the purpose of ensuring coordination and cooperation among officials, agencies and programs involved in compulsory attendance issues whose missions are to reduce the number of unexcused absences from school among students, and to increase the percentage of students present and prepared to take

11 tests required to be administered under the laws of this state (Georgia Department of Education, 2002-08). Title I. Part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965: A set of programs created by the United States Department of Education to distribute additional funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low- income families. To qualify as a Title I school, a school typically must have more than 40% of its students who come from families that qualify under the United States Census definitions as low-income (Glod, 2008). Truancy: Any child subject to compulsory attendance, who during the school calendar year has more than five days of unexcused absences (Georgia Department of Education, 2008).

Assumptions The following assumptions were present in this study: 1. Each tardy or absence means a student has lost an opportunity to learn (Georgia Department of Education, 1997-2005). Students who are chronically absent quickly become overwhelmed with the workload required to keep up or catch up with their peers. 2. Students often fail to determine what they are required to know and to produce when they attempt make up work independently. All students need to be both present and engaged to succeed in school and ensure a strong foundation for subsequent learning (Chang & Romero, 2008).

12 3. In quality terms, absenteeism is a waste of educational resources, time, and human potential. In Georgia, as in other states, school systems receive state monies based on the number of students attending school. As a result, when student absenteeism is high, school systems lose operating capital that helps to make up a major segment of each local school system’s budget (Georgia Department of Education, 1997-2005). 4. Student absenteeism may also cause extra work and wasted time for classroom teachers. Teachers who spend class time redoing and reorganizing lessons take instructional time away from students who attend class regularly; extra time spent going over absentee homework and class assignments takes time away from teacher planning periods and time needed to provide individual assistance (Weller, 2004). Weller’s research shows that absenteeism is not just a problem for an individual student; absenteeism affects the entire class, the teacher and the school. 5. In high school, the problem is multiplied because there is not just one classroom teacher working with one group of students. On a regular school day, high school teachers may see over one hundred students. 6. Keeping track of who is absent and helping with remediation when the student returns is often beyond a teacher’s capabilities, considering the lack of planning time available and the short amount of time the chronically absent students are in a particular class each day. This means that the frequently absent student is either left to catch up alone or left behind the rest of the class.


Limitations The subsequent limitations were present in this study: 1. This study was limited to high school students enrolled in one metropolitan high school with a large population of English Language Learners (ELL) students. 2. Consequently, this sample may not have been a clear representation of the school district or the state’s ninth grade population. 3. The sample of the study was limited to, and included only information gathered from student attendance data for school years 2004-2008. Results may not have shown a clear picture of student absenteeism patterns over a longer period of time. 4. The sample of study was limited because of the high mobility rate of students moving in and out of this school district and this metropolitan school.

Nature of the Study This was a mixed-method study. Survey methodology was used with survey questions given to ninth grade teachers who taught in the Ninth Grade Academy in which the intervention strategies were being implemented. Teacher perspectives as to the effectiveness of the attendance strategies after the implementation of the strategies were collected. To address the time period before implementation, archival data of attendance records were also collected. The convenient sample was comprised of attendance records of ninth grade students during the years 2004-2006 when the ninth graders were enrolled

14 in the traditional 9-12 model with no established intervention strategies or building approaches to increase daily attendance in the ninth grade. The comparison group was comprised of the ninth grade attendance records of students who were enrolled in the Ninth Grade Academy program that incorporated the attendance intervention strategies during the 2006-2008 enrollment periods. The independent variables are the intervention strategies, including the rewards incentives, implemented in the Ninth Grade Academy. The first dependent variable involved the teachers’ perceptions of and participation in the use of intervention strategies. The second dependent variable involved the before and after school tutorials, which could only be successful if students actually participated. The ninth grade classes of students who were enrolled in a traditional 9-12 model had no intervention strategies.

Organization of the Remainder of the Study A statement of the problem, purpose of the study, rationale, Research Questions, and significance of the study, definition of terms, assumptions, limitations, and the nature of the study were included within the first chapter. Chapter 2, Literature Review, investigated and blended literature relevant to this study. Information was gathered to see what strategies could be used to address student attendance. In Chapter 3, the research addressed research designs including descriptions of instruments and surveys used in this study. Also validity and reliability of instruments were included, as well as identifying data collection procedures and data analysis procedures. Chapter 4 included descriptive data, data analysis and results. In Chapter 5, results were discussed and conclusions

15 drawn from the data collected. Realistic applications for additional research have been suggested. This chapter concluded by discussing implications of the study.

16 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW Introduction Despite research findings a significant gap in the literature regarding studies that review specific programs that increase ninth-grade attendance rates still remains. In addition to the gap in literature, only a few studies exist that focus on outcomes of programs using some type of theoretical framework. Prevatt and Kelly (2003) suggested that to design and study outcomes effectively in alterative programs for schools, such programs need a guiding framework to organize or analyze the effectiveness of intervention components applied in school settings. The topics discussed in this chapter are: theory and context, factors related to school attendance, reports of attendance rates, national reform movements, ninth grade transition, smaller learning communities, the Ninth Grade Academy, intervention plans, incentive activities, parent centers and summary. Before presenting historical context and previous studies that discuss the topic of school attendance behavior, it was appropriate to discuss the theory and context that guided this study.

Theory and Context Lerner’s (2002) contemporary theory of adolescence emphasizes the need to consider development as systemic change. It requires seeing the teenager as a dynamic entity, the center of a network of influences involving him or her. The literature began to pinpoint the ninth grade level as the period when adolescents had the highest failure rate. Lerner suggested that a convergence of developmental and contextual factors during this

17 age frame caused ninth grade students to suffer in school. This all means that what a high school student learns or does not learn at this important part of development will stay with him for the rest of his life. A student who learns that he can get away with breaking boundaries is likely to continue testing and breaking those social limits. School experts have not only identified issues that may contribute to student absenteeism but they have also offered suggestions for designing a continuum of building-level approaches to resolve absentee problems. Although these experts still want students and families to be held accountable, there is a growing recognition that schools need to take a positive and systemic approach in examining how the school culture, demographics, and other factors contribute to attendance problems (Reid, 2003). Schools reduce absenteeism when they work to set clear and realistic attendance policies, create a positive culture, foster relationships between adults and students, and intervene early and appropriately when a pattern of absences emerges (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2004) Schools must design a site-based program that fits the specific needs of the attendance environment. Looking at causes of ninth grade students’ non-attendance behavior through the social and psychological contexts of their lives yielded insight into this acute problem. However, many studies focus on the people who surround these students at the beginning of high school. Peer group studies are prevalent in literature that describe and analyze the relationship of peer group influences and non-attendance behavior. The student who does not practice good habits will continue to find difficulties working with peers whose embedded habits are almost instinctive and effortless. Getting off the developmental path at this stage high school will have a negative impact on future endeavors.

Full document contains 125 pages
Abstract: Excessive student absenteeism among ninth graders was a major problem within a metropolitan Georgia high school. In order to solve the attendance problem and several other academic concerns, the school administration implemented a smaller learning community for ninth grade students. The Ninth Grade Academy concept implemented at the beginning of 2006 school year included a series of intervention strategies, in particular teacher involvement and incentive activities focusing on increased attendance and reduced truancy. The purpose of this triangulation mixed method study was to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of two of the intervention strategies used in the Ninth Grade Academy to increase daily attendance. The study also showed there was a significant difference in ninth grade attendance between the two periods before the implementation of the intervention strategies 2004-2006, and the period during the implementation of the intervention strategies 2006-2008.