Research Zone: What Families Say About School Communications & Attendance
Strong family-school partnerships are critical to better attendance and student outcomes. But building these authentic relationships isn’t easy. In our continued work to better support educators and the families and students they serve, we regularly survey families across the country to learn more about their experiences. We recently did a deep dive with 385 families across four surveys on school communications and barriers to attendance, and compiled our findings here! If you’re looking to freshen up your communications and help more families and students get to school every day, read on for some great insights!
Optimum Communications Cadences & Channels
How much communication is too much?
While a communication strategy that makes everyone happy can often feel impossible, with a multitude of opinions on how often messages should be sent, and where, we found that 57% of families would like to receive one communication a week, while 24% of families would rather receive a daily message. Currently, families receive an average of 8 communications each week, with high school students receiving slightly more than middle & elementary students.
How are communications best received?
Families receive emails most often, closely followed by in-app messages. When asked, families said that email was their medium of choice, while middle school families had a slightly higher preference for text message over email.
Not only was email the preferred way to receive messages, but families also claimed to pay the most attention to school emails. However, 1 in 3 families shared that they leave emails unread sometimes. On the flip slide, only 7% of families said they didn’t read a physical notice. This suggests that while many expect school messages in their email inbox, a physical notice can cut through the noise of all of the other messages that families may be receiving.
Families were not only more likely to read physical notices, but they were also more likely to save, share, and refer back to them. 83% of families said they posted the physical notice somewhere visible, because they had important dates or information about events, a reminder about an action they had to take, or even something they wanted others in their house to see. In behavioral science, we refer to this tangible form of communication as a “social artifact,” and its continued presence in the home lends itself to influencing positive changes over time.
Contact Information Insights
While families were more likely to have multiple email addresses and phone numbers than mailing addresses, mailing addresses were more likely to change throughout the year. 15% of families reported a change in mailing address, compared to 11% reporting a change in phone number and 7% reporting a change in primary email address.
Keeping track of these changes and ensuring the right message gets out in time can be difficult for schools and districts, which is why we leverage the National Change of Address (NCOA) service from the USPS to flag incorrect addresses for our partners, as well as flag incorrect phone numbers in our attendance data dashboard, EveryDay Pro.
Content that Resonates
In our busy world of information overload, we want whatever we take the time to read to be well worth it. Families are no exception, and fortunately, most families had positive things to say about the communications they’ve received, with 93% agreeing that they are relevant to them and 73% of them agreeing that they offer support and resources.
Middle school parents were a bit more critical of their school’s communications, and found them to be more confusing, threatening, or scary, while elementary school parents were less likely to agree that their communications were supportive.
While everyone appreciates support, getting down to business of academics and behavior were a big priority. Families strongly preferred communications that included information on their student’s behavior and grades, well above upcoming school events and deadlines.
Barriers to School Engagement & Attendance
What’s getting in the way of family engagement?
We all have competing demands on our time, and families are no exception, reporting an average of 3.5 unique barriers that prevented them from engaging with their school. Many reported busy schedules, work hours, and school staff work hours as top barriers— you can find a full list of barriers here:
What about attendance?
While most families agreed that student attendance was important, there were some differences in attitudes between elementary and high school families. Elementary school families were less likely to understand school attendance policies, underscoring the importance of a clear attendance policy, while high school families were less likely to feel that consistent attendance was necessary for success and were more skeptical about whether their student was learning valuable skills. They also were more likely to feel that their students were primarily responsible for making it to class.
When it comes to barriers to attendance, families reported an average of 5 attendance barriers, with physical and mental health being the most commonly reported, and the parent’s work schedule, academic challenges, and safety concerns following close behind. You can view a full list of the barriers reported here:
While understanding barriers to attendance is one thing, helping families overcome them is another challenge. Your school and district may have resources available, but finding the time to connect families to the right one can be time consuming. Finding a partner who can help you with this work can be a huge win for your school-based teams. EveryDay Intervention includes a 24/7 Family Support Bot and live, multilingual Family Support Team that connects families to the district and community resources they need to get to school more often.
Looking for more family engagement resources? Check out our Family Partnerships Toolkit!