The power of texting: combating student absenteeism

The power of texting: combating student absenteeism

By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University

With the prevalence of smartphones, text messaging has become a promising tool for connecting schools with parents more closely. A recent paper by the Institute of Education Sciences investigated the effects of an adaptive text messaging strategy on chronic absenteeism. The authors confirmed the potential of text messaging by demonstrating how it decreased chronic absence rates for all students by 2.4% to 3.6%.

Using a randomized controlled trial, the study experimented with four versions of adaptive text messaging among 26,000 elementary school students. During the fall semester, groups one and two received messages about the benefits of attendance while groups three and four received messages about the consequences of absenteeism. During the spring semester, chronically absent students in groups one and three received extra personalized outreach messages from school staff but those in groups two and four received extra goal commitment messages. Goal commitment messages asked parents to set attendance goals for their children for the coming week. Parents then received feedback on how well their children met the attendance goals they set at the end of the week.

Researchers found that:

  • All four versions of text messaging reduced chronic absence.
  • The messaging strategy did not improve reading or math achievement.    
  • Attendance benefit messages had the same effects as attendance consequences messages.
  • Staff outreach messages were more effective than goal commitment messages for chronically absent students, but not for all students.

The program also suggests the sustainability of text messaging strategies, since only 12% of participating families unsubscribed from messaging during the one-year program.

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