Testing Communications with Parents to Boost High School Students’ Attendance



A research-practice partnership between MDRC and New Visions for Public Schools (a nonprofit organization supporting district-run high schools in New York City) operated in 2015 and 2016 to tackle challenges related to high school graduation. Given growing correlational evidence on the relationship between school attendance and graduation, the partnership designed and tested an informational intervention aimed at improving high school students’ attendance.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The goal of the intervention was to design and test a low-cost intervention to catch parents’ attention and provide frequent and accurate updates about their students’ absences from school. One way to minimize cost was to design an automated intervention that did not require school staff time. Text messaging was chosen as the mode for delivering information. New Visions had the opportunity to design a text-messaging system that could automatically send daily absence updates to parents, triggered by attendance information posted by schools. The goal of the study was to provide quick but definitive information about whether delivering such updates improved attendance, so the partnership selected a rapid-turnaround experimental design.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

In 11 public high schools in New York City, students in each of grades 9 through 12 who had parents or guardians with active cell phones were randomly assigned to have their guardians receive daily absence updates or not. The impact analysis measured the effect of offering this information on student attendance rates during the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year. The study relied on administrative data from the New York City Department of Education to measure attendance.