American Institutes for Research
North Carolina State University
2M Research Services
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.
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).
A report, titled Can Texting Parents Improve Attendance in Elementary School? A Test of an Adaptive Messaging Strategy, was released in September 2020.
A how to guide, for districts interested in using the text messaging strategy, was released in December 2021.