Frequently Asked Questions

What is this mailing/project about?

This mailing was sent as part of a project with San Mateo County Office of Education and the Big Lift Initiative to raise awareness about the importance of regular school attendance for students’ success in school.

Why is San Mateo County Office of Education and/or my school district participating in this project?

We believe this to be a valuable study that can help us improve our support for households around attendance. The purpose of this project is to communicate with households about attendance.

Why is the study designed with an opt-out procedure vs. opt-in?

Data show that better attendance leads to better performance in school. This study investigates what kinds of communications with families can improve attendance. By including all parents/guardians unless they opt out, we will have a much larger set of responses in our study, so the results should be stronger.

The project is specifically designed with easy opt-out procedures for any households who wish not to participate. Parents/Guardians can opt-out their student through email, phone, and U.S. Postal Mail as outlined under the project website and the consent information letter sent to household addresses. Households also have been offered contact information available to reach relevant county and project staff at the San Mateo County Office of Education.

How many households are participating? How many have opted out?

The research team has mailed consent information letters to approximately 60,000 households across 15 participating districts. We expect around 1% to opt out throughout the duration of the project – that means about 600 households will opt out of the study.

What type of standards/laws exists to make sure that this project is fully approved/legal?

Every aspect of this project must meet the standards of the Harvard University Institutional Review Board. Data is for research only and cannot be shared or sold. All current project elements are fully compliant to FERPA, and we have used extreme care with student data.

Disclosure of student records is governed by both federal and state law. (See Household Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 20 USC § 1232g and 34 CFR §§ 99.1-99.8; Education Code § 49069 and 5 CCR §§ 430-433.) Both sets of laws permit the disclosure of information from student records without parental consent for use in a research study such as the Attendance Matters Project. More specifically, federal and state law authorize school districts to release information from pupil records to organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies for the purpose of improving instruction if certain requirements are met. These requirements are: (1) the studies must be conducted in a manner that will not permit the personal identification of pupils or their parents by persons other than representatives of the organizations; (2) the information must be destroyed when no longer needed for the study; and (3) the research organization must enter into a written agreement that sets forth these obligations. (20 U.S.C.A. § 1232g(b)(1)(F); 34 CFR§99.31(a)(6)(i); Education Code section 49076(a)(2)(E).)

What does it mean if my household takes part in this project?

Households may receive communications during the school year about your student's attendance and school performance. Student data regularly collected by your school will be shared with the research team, collaborators, and the project’s mail vendors. The data includes attendance, academic performance, demographics, and contact information and will only be used for the purpose of this study.

By agreeing to participate, households are letting us know it is okay for the research team to contact them about the student and to use their student's data. Participating households may change their mind and opt out of the communications at any time. Not participating in this project or stopping participation during the project will not affect the student's academic standing.

If my household participates, how will our privacy be protected? What happens to the data you collect?

The data will be confidential and only used for this project. We will use a random number to label and store data instead of the student's name. The information containing student data may be reviewed by people checking that this project is done correctly. The data will be publicly reported as group data; individual students will not be identified.

How long will this project last?

The project will last for the 2015-16 school year and through Fall 2016. Analysis and report-writing should be completed by spring 2017.

Who has approved this project?

This project has been reviewed by the Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research at Harvard University, and is monitored by the research team consisting of researchers from Harvard University and staff from the San Mateo County Office of Education and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Where can households reach out with more questions?

Please contact the San Mateo County Office of Education at attendancematters@smcoe.org or (650) 802-5440 with further questions.

How do I opt out of the project?

If a household does not want to participate in this project, they may email smcoe_attendanceproject@hks.harvard.edu or leave a voicemail at (650) 382-3927 with the following information:

  • Student First and Last Name
  • Student School Name
  • Student Grade Level
  • Parent/Guardian phone number
  • The 4-digit code located on the envelope where the recipient address is printed (example – A12B)
  • A clear statement that they do not wish to participate in the project

The research team will reflect withdrawal from the project within a few weeks’ time.