When teachers at a school in Washington state complained that many students were chronically late for class, administrators decided it was time for a schoolwide intervention to stop the loss of instructional time.
The problem was significant. Before the intervention, the junior high-high school logged 811 tardies in September 2006 and 1591 tardies in October 2006 for a student population of 355, according to a recent study in Preventing School Failure. A year later, in September and October 2007, after implementation of the schoolwide intervention, there were 571 and 464 tardies, respectively, a 30-70% decline in tardiness.
When the intervention was first implemented, students who were tardy 1-3 times had to complete a postcard that was sent home to their parents. The postcard included the date and time of the tardiness, the reason for the tardiness, a corrective action the student could take to arrive to class on time in the future and the student’s signature.`
“When many students are chronically late to class, the need for systems-level intervention is indicated because it suggests that expectations related to punctuality are unclear and consequences for tardiness are not implemented or are not effective,” the researchers write.
The school, operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, was 98% Native American. Children from more than 66 tribes attended the school.
The key features of the intervention, called Safe Transitions and Reduced Tardies (START) on Time, were consistent with the framework of positive behavior support and included explicit teaching of expected behavior during transitions to classes, active supervision of students in common areas during transition times and consistent consequences for tardiness.
Lesson plans to teach expectations
Lesson plans were developed to teach students expectations for punctuality and behavior in the hallways. The lessons, included in the article in Preventing School Failure, were taught over 3 days. Prior to implementation, teaching and non-teaching staff received 3 hours of training on the implementation, 1 hour each day for 3 days.
Students who continued to be tardy faced progressively stricter consequences under the intervention:
- The student who was tardy 4-6 times received lunch detention.
- The student tardy 7-9 times received tasks such as cleaning desks and vacuum- ing carpets
- The student tardy 10-12 times had to attend school from 3-5:30 p.m. on Fridays
Additionally, when a student was tardy more than 12 times, a conference was held with a parent or guardian and the student was required to meet with a panel of tribal elders.
During transition times between classes and during the first 5 minutes of each period, at least one member of the administrative team, the principal or vice principal or the student security officer, circulated through hallways, the researchers write.
In addition, an active supervision team, which consisted of teachers with planning periods after the transition, supervised hallways, restrooms, or any other areas within their assigned zones. These teachers circulated through their designated zones, supervising students and escorting anyone who was trailing behind schedule to the classroom.
When tardy students arrived in the classroom, students completed and signed the postcard that was to be sent to their parents and a record was made of the student’s tardiness. While the postcards were the most innovative aspect of the intervention, teachers found that completing the cards had the same net effect as tardiness: Students lost valuable instruction time at the beginning of the class.
To avoid this disruption, a change was made in the intervention. Students were given verbal warnings if they were tardy once or twice so they could attend class without delay. Students late for a 3rd time were given lunch detention and told to fill out a postcard to be mailed to their families.
In reflecting on the intervention, the researchers noted that there was no schoolwide positive reinforcement for student punctuality. There could be further reductions if there was more positive reinforcement for students who met expectations, the authors write.
“Schoolwide Intervention to Reduce Chronic Tardiness at the Middle and High School Levels,” by Ashli Tyre et al., Preventing School Failure, 2011, Volume 55, Number 3, pps. 132-139.