Research Zone: How Truancy Notices Resonate with Families & Drive Positive Change
We all know that strong and welcoming family-school communications are a key facet of a positive school climate. And yet, truancy letters, or notifications of truancy (NOTs), mandated by the state with legalistic and punitive language, often do not feature the same restorative and welcoming tone as other school outreach.
Because every educator’s end goal is maximizing learning opportunities, not bringing families to court, the team at EveryDay Labs set out to compare language in commonly used truancy letters and determine which would motivate families to take action to get their student’s attendance back on track.
Surveying 130 parents from across the country, respondents were shown one of three potential letters: one was from EveryDay Labs’ Truancy Support, another from the state of California, and the third from another truancy solution provider. They were first shown one of the three letters for 5 seconds, then answered a series of questions to determine how easily they could quickly skim for information. Then, they were shown the letter again, with more time to read fully before answering additional questions.
Here’s what we found:
Intentions & consequences are not always clear
When comparing responses for all three letters, we found that respondents were more easily able to determine that the EveryDay Labs letter was about attendance, and were more likely to identify specific consequences for absences after reading the EveryDay Labs letter. Additionally, respondents were more likely to understand why their student was considered truant, as they were able to correctly determine the absence threshold for becoming truant after viewing the EveryDay Labs letter.
Letters elicited strong emotions
There were many emotions reported after viewing the letters, the most common being worried, annoyed, disappointed, and shocked. However, some respondents reported feeling thankful and valued. Overall, we found that those who viewed the EveryDay Labs letter were less likely to feel embarrassed, overwhelmed, inadequate, disrespected, helpless, or ridiculed. They were more likely to feel thankful, valued, hopeful, and respected.
The right words can drive positive action
The intention behind a truancy letter should always be to remind families that they have the power and agency to help their students get back on track with their attendance. And yet not all letters inspired families equally. Respondents were more likely to say they'd take action after reading the EveryDay Labs letter.
What motivated these families to consider action? It’s possible that the letters from EveryDay Labs better communicated the importance of attending school every day. In fact, those who viewed the EveryDay Labs letter were more likely to agree or strongly agree that:
1. Students should attend school every day
2. Absences are harmful whether they are excused or unexcused;
3. They can make an impact on their student’s attendance;
4. The school wants to help them improve their students' attendance.
Truancy notices don’t have to be just another piece of paper that is pushed aside, or even worse, a source of anger or disappointment. Truancy Support sends restorative and family-centered truancy notices that inspire families to take action and understand the importance of attendance for their students’ success. Click here for more research on Truancy Support's truancy notices.