We took a big step toward wrapping up development of Attend – our absence intervention application – this week with building out the first components that manage notifications. To say that increasing attendance is a complex problem would be the understatement of the year! You start to get an appreciation for how complex it is when you are building a system designed to help districts increase attendance. I had no idea how important attendance is before working on this project!
I’m extremely happy with the results so far. At the 50,000 foot level it sounds easy: pull absence data from the district SIS, crunch some absence rates, and then notify parents that their kids need to stop missing school. Needless to say, there are a myriad of legal and process subtleties that make things get complex quickly. One problem was just the sheer volume of data. Ordinarily when we build applications we deal with student data that is roughly the size of the student population. No big deal. To deal with the sheer volume of absence data, we were unable to take our usual approaches and we ended up writing extremely sophisticated database routines for importing and performing calculations on the data. It took a lot longer than initially planned but I am extremely happy with the outcome. Here’s a view our districts have that allow them to quickly identify and manage at risk students (identifying data have been anonymized).
From here the district’s Child Welfare and Attendance department can quickly review and schedule interventions.
As you can see in this simple example, a single student has nearly 20 absences. Unfortunately, this is not atypical.
Our next step is enabling notifications. I’m extremely happy with our design on this. Not only do we allow districts to generate paper notifications (traditional mail) but we also support email and SMS notifications. This will go a long way to engaging parents as early as possible. I’ll have more to share soon.