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Impact Evaluation of Parent Messaging Strategies on Student Attendance

Contract Information

Current Status:

The study is complete. A "how to guide" for districts interested in using the text messaging strategy is underway.

Duration:

October 2016 – September 2021

Cost:

$3,397,286

Contract Number:

ED-IES-16-C-0017

Contractor(s):

American Institutes for Research
North Carolina State University
2M Research Services

Contact:

Reports

Attending school is critical for student success, yet in low-income communities a quarter of all young students are chronically absent (defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days). One potentially cost-effective way to improve attendance is to text message parents, providing basic information about the importance of students being in school, tips for getting to school, and personalized alerts when students are absent and then adapting or intensifying messages for families that continue to struggle with chronic absence. This evaluation examined the impact of such a strategy by randomly assigning parents of 26,000 elementary school students to receive different versions of the texting strategy or to receive only their district's regular attendance outreach, and then comparing student attendance and achievement among the groups.

  • What is the impact on student attendance of using text messaging to provide parents with basic information related to attendance? Is it better for the messages to emphasize the benefits of regular attendance or the consequences of missing school?
  • For parents who do not respond to the lower-cost, basic messages, which higher-cost, intensified messages work better to improve attendance, one that includes direct outreach from school staff or one that uses automated methods to improve motivation and behavioral skills?
  • Do the four combinations of fall and spring messages (i.e., the four adaptive versions of the messaging strategy) have effects on end-of-year attendance and achievement when compared to each other and to business-as-usual?
  • How is the messaging strategy implemented and what are its costs?

The evaluation used a sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) design to measure the effectiveness of four versions of an adaptive messaging strategy across a full school year. In the fall, the study team randomly assigned families of 26,000 K-5 students within 108 elementary schools in 4 large purposively-selected urban districts to receive one of two types of basic messages or their school's usual communications only. In the spring, parents whose children were absent frequently in the fall, despite the basic messages, were re-randomized to receive one of two types of intensified messages. Data for the evaluation came from district records (student attendance and achievement); the text messaging vendor (success of message delivery and other technical information), and a brief school staff log (implementation and cost information).

  • All four versions of the adaptive text messaging strategy reduced chronic absence. The messaging lowered the expected chronic absence rate by 2 to 7 percentage points, with the larger reduction for students with a prior history of high absence.
  • The two approaches to basic messaging were similarly effective at reducing chronic absence, but one approach to intensified messaging was better than the other for certain students. The basic messaging focused on either the benefits of attending school or the consequences of being absent — both approaches were equally effective. But for those that received intensified messaging and had a prior history of high absence, having school staff directly text parents reduced chronic absence rates in the spring more than the other more automated intensified approach.
  • The text messaging strategy did not improve achievement. The reading and mathematics achievement of students in Grades 3 through 5 was similar for students whose parents did and did not receive text messages during the year the text messaging was under way.