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Attendance and Academic Outcomes
July 2021


"What does the research say about the relationship between student attendance in the first month of school and academic performance later in the school year?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Ansari, A., Pianta, R. C., Whittaker, J. V., Vitiello, V. E., Ruzek, E. A., & Zhang, J. (2021). Does the timing of kindergarten absences matter for children's early school success? School Psychology, 36(3), 131–141. Full text available for a fee at:

From the Abstract:
"Although we know that children who are more frequently absent from school do less well academically, we know little about whether absences matter for other domains of development and whether the timing of their absences matter. In order to address these gaps in knowledge, we examined the experiences of 1,131 kindergartners (64% Hispanic, 7% Black, 17% Asian/other, 12% White) from a mid-Atlantic state. Covariate-adjusted regression analyses showed that children who missed school more frequently did less well in terms of their academic achievement and executive function skills both in kindergarten and through the end of first grade. Importantly, however, there were no consistent differences in children's social behavior nor did outcomes vary as a function of whether their absences occurred in the fall as compared with spring."

Gottfried, M. A. (2017). Does truancy beget truancy? Evidence from elementary school. The Elementary School Journal, 118(1), 128–148.

From the Abstract:
"Within schooling policy and practice, truancy awareness and prevention programs expend much effort on reducing fall absences under the assumption that stopping this behavior early in the year can reduce negative outcomes later on in the year. Little research has focused on whether early absences in the year correlate with later outcomes. No study had examined how fall absences might spur later absences. To address this gap, this study relied on longitudinal district data for students in kindergarten through fifth grade and examined whether higher levels of fall truancy predict higher levels of spring truancy. The findings suggest that more fall absences predict more spring absences, and more fall tardies predict more spring tardies. However, fall absences do not predict spring tardies, and fall tardies do not predict spring absences. The type of truancy in which a student engaged was domain specific. Findings are differentiated by individual characteristics, thereby indicating which students might be at greatest risk from missing school in the fall."

Gottfried, M. A., & Kirksey, J. J. (2017). "When" students miss school: The role of timing of absenteeism on students' test performance. Educational Researcher, 46(3), 119–130.

From the Abstract:
"Policy and practice have charged forward with emphasizing the necessity to reduce school absenteeism in the fall (i.e., Attendance Awareness Month). However, no empirical basis served to bolster these efforts. This study examined whether fall versus spring absenteeism was linked to spring state exam scores for a sample of elementary students over 3 years. Using district data, the findings suggested spring absences were associated with lower testing performance, with the most critical period being the 30-day window leading up to the test. This study illustrates that most is at stake for student test performance by missing school in the days and months leading up to the test date and that different support systems are needed to address subgroups of students."

MS KIDS Count. (2016). Counting the future: Early attendance charts a path for future success in Mississippi schools. Mississippi State, MS. Retrieved from

From the Document:
"Attendance patterns exhibited early in the year often predict behaviors later in the school year. In 2014, the Baltimore Education Research Consortium reviewed attendance patterns of students enrolled in Baltimore city schools and found that students who missed between two and four days during the month of September were five times more likely to be chronically absent over the whole school year than those who missed fewer than two days.9 Students who missed more than four days in September continued to miss between six and nine days per month.9 For the first time, researchers at Mississippi KIDS COUNT used student-level data to examine whether these same patterns held true in Mississippi's public schools. Using longitudinal data provided by the Mississippi Department of Education, researchers found that students who missed less than two days in September had the lowest rate of chronic absence for the year (7%), compared to those who missed either two to four days (38.8%) or more than four days (77.1%). These findings suggest that attendance patterns in September set the stage for attendance for the entire year. It is important to note that students can become chronically absent in subsequent months. Challenges can come at any time of the year. In addition to tracking, monitoring, and intervening starting in August and September, schools should pay close attention to attendance patterns of individual students throughout the year."

Olson, L. S. (2014). Why September matters: Improving student attendance. Baltimore: Baltimore Education Research Consortium.

From the Abstract:
"This brief examines absences in September and students' attendance over the rest of the year. Attendance should be addressed before it becomes problematic. Chronic absenteeism, missing more than 20 days of a school year, is an early indicator of disengagement. High absence rates have negative consequences not only for individual students, but also for classroom instruction and school climate. These results suggest that schools need to pay attention to student attendance from the earliest days in September and intervene to get students back on track quickly."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: (attendance OR absences OR absenteeism OR "school attendance") ("First month of school" OR September OR "start of the school year" OR "beginning of the school year") ("student outcomes" OR "academic achievement" OR "student achievement")

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.