The Institution of Education Sciences, an independent, nonpartisan statistics, research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education, recently published a study that reveals how text messaging can improve attendance at elementary schools.

Based on the study, the IES has published a guide that provides districts with information and tools for implementing text messaging to reduce absenteeism.

The study tested four versions of an adaptive text messaging strategy to see which, if any, would reduce chronic absence among 26,000 elementary school students. During the fall of the study year, families randomly assigned to one of the text messaging groups received basic messaging, which consisted of low-cost, low-burden weekly reminders about the importance of attendance and same-day notifications when children missed school.

In the spring, parents of students with few absences continued with the basic messaging, while parents of students who were frequently absent in the fall received additional intensified messaging.

Students in the messaging groups were compared to students whose parents received no messages. All four versions of the adaptive text messaging strategy reduced chronic absence, lowering the expected chronic absence rate of 20.5% for students overall by 2.4 to 3.6 percentage points. For students with a prior history of high absence, the messaging lowered the expected chronic absence rate of 47.1% by 3.5 to 7.3 percentage points.

The two approaches to basic messaging were similarly effective at reducing chronic absence, but intensified messaging that involved school staff directly texting parents reduced chronic absence rates in the spring more than the other more automated intensified approach, for students with a prior history of high absences.

However, the study found that text messaging did not improve reading or mathematics achievement during the study year for students in grades three through five.

As a result of the study, the IES has published a detailed guide titled “How to Text Message Parents to Reduce Chronic Absence Using an Evidence-Based Approach.”

The guide includes three sections:

  • Part I helps district staff determine if they can and might want to adopt the text messaging strategy and, if so, what to do next.
  • Part II is geared toward information technology staff and provides technical information about how to implement the text messaging.
  • Part III is a set of interactive tools and resources to guide planning, decision making, and implementation.

Read more about the study.

Download the guide.