Chronic truancy is prevalent among school children who are at risk. Truancy in primary school is predictive of truancy in later years, school dropout, and the closely associated problems of adolescence, including substance abuse and delinquency. Hence there is reason to believe that an effective program of truancy reduction in the primary years will be conducive to more successful trajectories for adolescents. Nonetheless, truancy prevention programs have traditionally been targeted toward middle school and high school settings and have rarely been evaluated.
The Early Truancy Prevention Program (ETPP) was designed in collaboration with teachers and administrators in the Durham Public Schools to prevent the onset of truancy among primary school students. The ETPP is intended to improve attendance by facilitating communication between teachers and parents and giving teachers the lead role in intervening with individual students who begin to accumulate excessive absences.
The Early Truancy Prevention Program takes a multi-pronged approach to improve student attendance and includes the following intervention components: a) universal teacher home visiting to establish a positive, collaborative home-school relationship and to provide teachers with information about student barriers to attendance; b) a smart phone for each teacher to encourage frequent communication with parents by text, email, or voice, as well as providing a mobile device to access online materials; c) weekly attendance data to alert teachers to students with emerging attendance problems (defined as those students with three or more unexcused absences in the last month); d) an online Attendance Information System that guides the teacher’s assessment of barriers to attendance for each student, provides suggested interventions and allows progress monitoring.
The ETPP was piloted in three elementary schools beginning in 2010-11. In 2012, the Duke research team received a Goal 2 Grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to develop and pilot this intervention further. In 2013-14, the intervention was implemented in 20 first and second grade classrooms in five high-poverty Durham public elementary schools, with 21 other classrooms serving as controls.
Preliminary analysis indicate a statistically significant reduction in the number of student absences in the intervention group as compared to the control group. The number of students with 4-5 absences decreased 9 percent and the number of students with 6+ absences decreased 10 percent in intervention classrooms as compared to the control group. Teachers also reported improved communication between home and school and a high level of satisfaction with the program. The Duke research team has applied for additional funding to conduct a randomized controlled trial in two sites beginning in the 2016-17 school year.