It Takes More Than a Student Information System to Effectively Track Students Experiencing Homelessness


For schools nationwide, understanding the backgrounds and living situations of the students they serve is vital to providing adequate support. The process is not always straightforward. The Student Information System (SIS) of many school districts can be inadequate because an SIS is only as accurate as the data that it houses. Inaccurate data, missing data, or data that an SIS doesn't store can create hurdles to support students' needs. Not only does this impact the school's ability to stay compliant with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (M-V Act), it can hinder student achievement and stability. 

Students experiencing homelessness show a marked decline in their academic success and graduation rates than their peers with stable living situations. According to Education Week, "only 29 percent of homeless students performed proficiently in reading and language arts, 8.5 percent fewer than other low-income students. Roughly 1 in 4 homeless students was proficient in math and science overall, compared to a third or more of housed low-income students."  
While it is clearly in the best interest of everyone involved that schools track students experiencing homelessness, most school SISs don't include enough information about these at-risk students. For one, students experiencing homelessness are often reluctant to disclose their living situation for fear of embarrassment. These students keep their homelessness a secret, and educators are often hesitant to avoid being intrusive.  
Additionally, the parents of students experiencing homelessness may have difficulty properly communicating with schools. Some are not proficient in English or may not have access to online forms. This makes it difficult to track student homelessness, as the information doesn't make it into the records.   
In many schools, this task is handled by a single staff member assigned the role of the District Homeless Liaison. Further compounding the issue is that this staff member is often adding these duties to their current role. A teacher or administrator already fully occupied with teaching or running other programs must single-handedly keep track of and attempt to provide appropriate services to students experiencing homelessness.  
With so many impediments to tracking homelessness, it's little wonder schools struggle to maintain accurate records. Luckily, TransACT has developed a number of tools to combat these issues.  
With the Homeless Information Management System for Students (HIMSS), schools and districts are provided with a data management system that helps homeless liaisons identify gaps in health and education services offered and carry out their responsibilities. With this software, liaisons are relieved of the burden of having to research ESSA and M-V Act requirements on their own and have a system to track information that their SIS system doesn't.  
Additionally, HIMSS automatic emails go out to all stakeholders when a students' homeless status is confirmed. 
By ensuring faculty have accurate information at their disposal and that the parents of youth experiencing homelessness are better able to communicate, HIMSS helps schools properly track students once identified as experiencing homelessness to ensure their students have access to the resources they need. Find out how HIMSS can help your district by scheduling a demonstration. 

Alyssa Thornley

About The Author

Alyssa Thornley has spent her career working to support schools and communities in providing opportunity to all students. In positions as a teacher, professional development coordinator, and as a volunteer, she has focused on the community’s role in education, and in designing efficient programs that work for diverse needs. Alyssa leads TransACT’s customer engagement and market strategy efforts, and works to ensure innovative programs, guidance, and thought leadership from across the country’s districts are being shared and spread.