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Attendance Affects Achievement: Study Provides State-by-State Look

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Students with poor attendance in the month before taking the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress scored significantly lower on the test than their peers who had no absences in that time frame, a new analysis by Attendance Works finds.

The study, released today, defines poor attendance as missing three or more days in that period, regardless of whether the absences were excused or unexcused. Students self-report a variety of indicators, including absences, when they take the test.

National averages on the 4th and 8th grade mathematics and reading tests were between 12 and 18 test-score points lower for students with poor attendance than for their peers who hadn't missed any school in the reporting period, the analysis found. The tests have a maximum score of 500.

"This is true at every age, in every subject, in every racial and ethnic group and in every state and city examined," the report says. "In many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups."

The link between actually showing up to school and doing well academically may seem pretty obvious to many educators, but the analysis provides a new examination of the extent to which the two correlate, the report says. That's in part because states define and measure chronic absenteeism differently, making it difficult to track and compare across the country. The self-reported NAEP data gives researchers a rare opportunity for a more thorough analysis, they wrote.

You can take a look at these graphs to see how your state's students ranked in absences and how those absences related to their test scores. "Montana and New Mexico had among the worst statewide absenteeism rates at the fourth grade level, with 25 percent or more of students reporting that they missed 3 or more days prior to the assessment," a news release said. "At the eighth grade level, they are joined by Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming."

And you can read Education Week's November 2013 coverage of 4th and 8th grade NAEP scores here.

The effects of absences build up.

Attendance Works estimates that between 5 million and 7.5 million U.S. students miss nearly a month of school each year. And some of the students with poor attendance in the NAEP analysis will likely be among them.

"About one in five students in both 4th and 8th grade reported missing three or more days in the month before the test," the report says. "If that pattern persisted all year, the students would have missed 27 days or about 15 percent of the school year."

Poor attendance affects achievement, graduation rates, and social-emotional factors like grit and perseverance, research shows.

September is an important month for school attendance.

I doubt it's a mistake that this report was released at the beginning of September, which has been deemed "Attendance Awareness Month." The early part of the school year is an important threshold for establishing attendance habits for the rest of the year. From the report:

"A new study by the  Baltimore Education Research Consortium found that half the students who missed two to four days in September went on to be chronically absent for the year, missing an average of 25 days. Nine out of 10 students who missed at least 5 days in September were chronically absent, averaging 70 absences."

So what should be done about this?

"This lost instructional time exacerbates dropout rates and achievement gaps. It erodes the promise of early education and confounds efforts to master reading by the end of 3rd grade," the report says. "Too often, though, states and school districts overlook this problem because they simply aren't looking at the right data. They know how many students show up for school every day and how many are truant, but they don't add up all absences—excused and unexcused—to see how many students miss  so many days that they are headed off track academically."

Among the recommendations included in the report:

  • "Promote a standard definition in order to calculate chronic absenteeism across districts and states. The definition should clarify that chronic absence includes excused and unexcused absences (truancy), as well as days missed to suspensions or children switching schools."
  • Invest in tools to track individual student attendance.
  • Make reports on chronic absenteeism publicly available at the district, school, and grade level.
  • Provide parents "real-time data" on their children's attendance.
  • Adopt "early warning" systems that track indicators, including attendance, that may predict high school dropout risk.

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