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Research Collaboration Corner

May 2018

A Key to Success: Improving Student Attendance  


Rachel Lander, PhD

Senior Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Mary Kasten

Teacher Leader for the Milwaukee Partnership Schools grant, Milwaukee Public Schools


Kristin Kappelman

Research Specialist, Milwaukee Public Schools

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Research Collaboration Corner (RCC), where the collaborative efforts between the Research and Evaluation (R & E) team of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the district’s university partners will be highlighted.

This edition is focused on a preliminary, yet successful, solution to one of schools’ greatest challenges: increasing student attendance. The district’s attendance framework will be explained, followed by how a collective impact initiative, the Milwaukee Partnership Schools grant, found positive trends within this framework.

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  MPS Attendance Framework

Research states school attendance is a baseline factor in determining student success, and regular attendance provides students with a better chance to be successful in school as well as life (Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J, and Johnson, D. High School Graduation and College Readiness Indicator Systems. UChicago Consortium on School Research, April 2018).  MPS, fully committed to improving student attendance, has developed an attendance improvement plan (AIP) to address student attendance. From this work, four key facets to school-based attendance plans have been discovered. 

Key Facet 1. Data-Driven Decisions

  • Attendance data is analyzed for trends based on historical school population data and student sub-groups, including students approaching absenteeism, which is defined as an attendance rate lower than 90%.

  • Actionable items, determined by this on-going analysis, are tracked for implementation fidelity and outcome effectiveness.

Key Facet 2. Teaching

  • Frequent, explicit messaging and instruction around attendance delivered directly to students by school administration and teachers.

  • Prioritize messaging of attendance to students and families.

Key Facet 3. Acknowledgments

  • Combination of immediate, intermittent, and long-term celebrations reinforcing the teaching of new behaviors to students and families.

  • Recognizing staff that support work around attendance.

Key Facet 4. Interventions

  • Identifying students who need additional support, creating a plan, and evaluating effectiveness.

  Milwaukee Partnership Schools Grant and the Impact Road Maps

Recognizing the potential power of collaborative efforts, and the strength of community partners throughout Milwaukee, MPS has chosen to focus on including collective impact initiatives as part of its strategic plan for improvement. One particular collective impact initiative began in the fall of 2015, when MPS, along with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and City Year Milwaukee, wrote a proposal for the Milwaukee Partnership Schools grant. This grant, awarded to selected schools, will continue through the 2018-2019 school year. The grant focuses on providing students and teachers with support throughout the school day, as well as after school, with a focus on improving attendance, decreasing suspensions, and increasing academic achievement.

A key lever for these collaborative efforts is monthly meetings organized around data-driven templates and shared road maps that guide the work. Working with the grant/project teacher leader and developmental evaluator, each school created an attendance road map. The road map follows the attendance framework described at the beginning of this corner and lays out the specific strategies partners are implementing. At the meetings, partners report on their implementation and impact, and the team problem solves any areas for improvement.

As discussed below, positive attendance trends across the schools implementing this framework during the 2017-2018 school year have been seen. Analysis of this process leads to the following key elements for success:

1. Follow the framework described above and include strategies for each component.

2. Embed these attendance strategies into the fabric of the school, across all adults and students in the building.

3.  Monitor the implementation of key levers in the plan.

4. Ensure there is one point person at the school (in this case, the school social worker) to drive the road maps.

5. Align with key resources, including community partners, to play an integral role.


Early results show a positive trend in school-wide attendance data and a decrease in absenteeism in schools utilizing the four facets listed above.

When comparing year-to-date attendance between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years, all schools show an increase in their attendance. While the uptick may seem slight, a 1% change in attendance can indicate an increase of over 100 days attended across the entire student body.   


In addition to the year-to-date attendance data provided above,  the perspectives of participants who met monthly on school-based collaborative teams as part of the Milwaukee Partnership Schools grant was analyzed. During the spring of the 2017 and again in the spring of 2018, participants were asked to rate the implementation of the attendance plan on the following scale:

Not Effective

(1 point)

Somewhat Effective

(2 points)


(3 points)

Very Effective

(4 points)

There is not a strategic attendance plan in place. Current attempts to improve attendance are having very little impact.

There is not a strategic attendance plan in place. Current attempts to improve attendance are having some, but limited, impact.

A written strategic plan may or may not be in place. Coordinated efforts are being implemented but not consistently. Current attempts are working to improve student attendance.

A written strategic attendance plan is in place. Coordinated efforts are being implemented consistently. Current attempts are working to improve student attendance.


The results show increases in participants’ perspectives of the effectiveness of the attendance plans across all three schools.


Thank you for reading the RCC! One of the goals of the RCC is to disseminate useful practices/procedures in an effort to share these results with other schools and districts in a timelier manner.

The next edition of the RCC will focus on the Transformative Reading Instruction (TRI) program, a collaboration between Milwaukee Succeeds, UW-Milwaukee, and MPS. The TRI model, designed to accommodate a wide variety of student learning needs, provides teachers with intensive evidence-based coaching on foundational reading and social emotional skills.


For questions related to the RCC, please contact Kristin Kappelman at

For questions related to the AIP, please contact Karen Horn at  

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2017
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