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SMS Alerts: Class Attendance Up 17%, Course Failure Down 39%

Published on March 27, 2017

In Text Messaging Can Help 200,000 More Students Enroll in College, we wrote about how “low-cost nudges” like text messages can have a significant impact on college enrollment among low-income high school students.

We also wrote about how those low-cost nudges can impact students in other ways and in other grade levels. One of the studies we cited was conducted by Peter Bergman:

Columbia University professor Peter Bergman published a study in which sending regular information (via SMS, emails, and phone calls) to parents of middle and high school students in Los Angeles led to a 25% increase in homework completion. This in turn led to better test scores and GPAs.

Now, as reported by NPR’s All Things Considered and Columbia’s Teachers College Newsroom, Bergman and fellow TC researcher Eric Chan have released another study showing that SMS can serve as a low-cost nudge for parents, too.

Problem: Getting the Parents Involved

So, what do parents need a nudge for, anyway? Well, there’s plenty of research indicating that when parents get involved in their children’s education, the kids are more successful in school.

Problem is, parents don’t get involved as often as you might think. For example, in Kanawha County Schools—the West Virginia district Bergman and Chan studied—only 27% of parents had ever logged on to the learning management system to look at grades. That low involvement rate is typical across the board, Bergman said, and it leads parents to adopt biased beliefs about their kids.

According to NPR, many schools do have programs in place that attempt to leverage parental involvement and increase student performance. However, these programs are usually 1) expensive, 2) untested/unproven, and 3) targeted at younger student segments.

So, what’s an affordable, effective, scalable way to keep parents involved with their kids’ education from start to finish?

Hmm, how about…

Parent Alerts

Bergman and Chan’s research paired the district’s learning management system with automated text messages called “parent alerts.” In a randomized trial, they sent 32,472 text messages to parents with children in 22 different middle and high schools. Each treated family received an average of 52 messages.

The parent alerts pushed out three types of student data from the learning management system and teacher gradebooks—missed assignments, absences, and low grades. On Mondays, texts went out notifying parents of any missed assignments from the previous week:

iPhone screenshot showing text: "Parent alert: Brandt has 3 missing assignments in math class. For more information visit here: bit.ly/1cY78RZ"

Wednesdays were for reporting last week’s absences:

iPhone screenshot showing text: "Parent alert: Brandt has 2 absences in math class. For more information visit here: visit here: bit.ly/1cY78RZ"

Finally, on the last Friday of each month, parents received alerts about any grade averages below 70%:

iPhone screenshot showing text: "Parent alert: Brandt has a 61% average in math class. For more information log online."

Small cost

The Columbia texting study had an impressively low price tag of $7–$10 per student, per year—”and that’s if a district starts from scratch,” All Things Considered host Cory Turner pointed out. Most of those dollars went to teacher gradebooks and personnel training.

And the 32,472 text alerts? $63, total. That comes out to less than 0.2¢ apiece!

Big results

Parents responded well to the text alert program. They contacted schools more often, developed a more accurate picture of how their kids were performing, and became more involved as a result. This in turn drove up student performance and class attendance:

“The intervention reduces course failures by 39% and increases class attendance by 17%. Students are more likely to be retained in the district. These effects are particularly large for students with below-average GPA and students in high school.”

The NPR piece also noted that student GPAs improved by a quarter of a point on a four-point scale.

Summing It Up

All Things Considered concluded with a quote from Lindsay Page, the University of Pittsburgh researcher who participated in the college enrollment research we mentioned above:

Maybe this sounds simple, but if we want to be communicating well with students, we should communicate through the channels that they use.

To which Turner added:

The same goes for parents, especially low-income families that may not have regular access to a computer or a smartphone, but almost certainly have a basic cellphone. The promise of texting is that once the system’s in place, those messages can be automatic—no one has to write them.

Once again a simple solution delivers. You don’t need to go searching for complicated and expensive when easy and affordable is standing right in front of you.

With SimpleTexting, it’s easy to set up text messaging programs for schools to help parents help their kids improve. School nudges parent, parent nudges student, and student nudges the course of history.

Or something cool like that. 🙂

If you’re interested in trying out text messaging, sign up for a free 14-day trial today. No contracts involved, and not a single string attached. Just simple!


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