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Attendance Interventions
July 2021


"What does the research say about effective interventions that can be implemented during the school year to improve student attendance rates?"

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.


Balu, R., & Ehrlich, S. B. (2018). Making sense out of incentives: A framework for considering the design, use, and implementation of incentives to improve attendance. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 23(1/2), 93–106. https://eric.ed.gov9

From the Abstract:
"Accumulating evidence indicates that student attendance is closely tied to a range of educational outcomes, and yet millions of students are chronically absent each year. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools are now held accountable for their students' attendance at a scale this country has never before seen. As such, this is a crucial time to understand what research and evaluations suggest about what schools can do to move the needle on student attendance. As researchers work toward understanding the impact of different interventions and practices, and how results vary by grade level, on-the-ground experiences in schools highlight the pervasive use of incentives from pre-K to grade 12. Schools have employed a wide range of incentives to improve attendance, with varied levels of success. Unfortunately, there is little guidance on what policymakers and practitioners ought to consider when deciding if incentives are an appropriate intervention, and then how to design incentives in ways that align with the nature of specific attendance barriers and problems. This article presents a framework to fill that gap. We outline the design considerations when creating attendance incentives and offer guidance to practitioners deciding what to implement in their school."

Balu, R., Porter, K., & Gunton, B. (2016). Can informing parents help high school students show up for school? New York, NY: MDRC Policy Brief. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"MDRC, an independent, nonprofit research firm, partnered with New Visions for Public Schools, which supports a network of district-run high schools in New York City, to design and evaluate an intervention aimed at improving high school students' attendance. The intervention used text messaging to send parents daily absence updates and weekly attendance summaries; students were randomly assigned to have their guardians receive messages. The evaluation found that the intervention did not change attendance rates in the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year."

Edwards, L. (2013). School counselors improving attendance. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 20(1), 1–5.

From the Abstract:
"This study examined the outcomes of interventions used to address attendance issues at a middle school located in the Southern United States. School-wide interventions were implemented to address absenteeism of all students and individual interventions were implemented to address absenteeism with targeted students. An explanation of each intervention is provided. Post-intervention data indicated that the attendance rate improved. For the purpose of this study, the attendance rate is defined as the percentage of students who missed 15 or more days of school during the school year."

Freeman, J., Simonsen, B., McCoach, D. B., Sugai, G., Lombardi, A., & Horner, R. (2016). Relationship between school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports and academic, attendance, and behavior outcomes in high schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 18(1), 41–51. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Attendance, behavior, and academic outcomes are important indicators of school effectiveness and long-term student outcomes. ‘Multi-tiered systems of support' (MTSS), such as ‘School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports' (SWPBIS), have emerged as potentially effective frameworks for addressing student needs and improving student outcomes. Much of the research on SWPBIS outcomes has taken place at the elementary and middle school levels, leaving a need for a more thorough examination of outcomes at the high school level. The purpose of this study was to explore the links between implementation of SWPBIS and academic, attendance, and behavior outcome measures across a large sample of high schools from 37 states. Despite some of the difficulties of SWPBIS implementation at the high school level, evidence suggests positive relationships between SWPBIS implementation and outcomes in behavior and attendance for high schools that implement with fidelity.

Friedman Cole, J. (2011). Interventions to combat the many facets of absenteeism: Action research. GSCA Journal, 18(1), 62–70.

From the Abstract:
"This paper operationalizes the definition of action research (AR) and the importance of conducting such studies to improve the lives of students and professionals. This paper provides an overview of literature regarding variables related to truancy and absenteeism. The paper discusses the importance of students being present and engaged, negative implications associated with poor attendance and dropping out of school, and reviews the effectiveness of Check & Connect and other multimodal approaches used to increase attendance. Evidence presented in the paper supports the usefulness of having a check-in and reward system for students with frequent absences reduces truancy. Lastly, the paper presents study results and implications.

Heppen, J. B., Kurki, A., & Brown, S. (2020). Can texting parents improve attendance in elementary school? A test of an adaptive messaging strategy (NCEE 2020–006). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

From the Abstract:
"Chronic absence is a nationwide problem, even among young students. Those with poor attendance are more likely to face challenges later in school and in life. This study tested four versions of an adaptive text messaging strategy to see which, if any, would reduce chronic absence among 26,000 elementary school students. During the fall of the study year, families randomly assigned to one of the text messaging groups received "basic" messaging, which consisted of low-cost, low-burden weekly reminders about the importance of attendance and same-day notifications when their children missed school. In the spring, messages were "adapted": parents of students with few absences continued with the basic messaging, while parents of students who were frequently absent in the fall received additional intensified messaging. The study compared two approaches to basic messaging and two approaches to intensified messaging, to learn how a texting strategy might work best. Students in the messaging groups were compared to students whose parents received no messages to rigorously assess whether the messaging improved attendance and achievement. Findings included: (1) All four versions of the adaptive text messaging strategy reduced chronic absence; (2) The two approaches to basic messaging were similarly effective at reducing chronic absence, but one approach to intensified messaging was better than the other for certain students; and (3) The text messaging strategy did not improve achievement. [For the appendices to this report "Can Texting Parents Improve Attendance in Elementary School? A Test of an Adaptive Messaging Strategy. Appendix. NCEE 2020-006a," see ED607614. For the study highlights "Can Texting Parents Improve Attendance in Elementary School? A Test of an Adaptive Messaging Strategy. Study Highlights. NCEE 2020-006," see ED607615.]"

Kearney, C. A., & Graczyk, P. (2014). A response to intervention model to promote school attendance and decrease school absenteeism. Child & Youth Care Forum, 43(1), 1–25.

From the Abstract:
"Background: Regular school attendance is foundational to children's success but school absenteeism is a common, serious, and highly vexing problem. Researchers from various disciplines have produced a rich yet diverse literature for conceptualizing problematic absenteeism that has led to considerable confusion and lack of consensus about a pragmatic and coordinated assessment and intervention approach. Objective: To lay the foundation and suggested parameters for a Response to Intervention (RtI) model to promote school attendance and address school absenteeism. Methods: This is a theoretical paper guided by a systematic search of the empirical literature related to school attendance, chronic absenteeism, and the utilization of an RtI framework to address the needs of school-aged children and youth. Results: The RtI and absenteeism literature over the past 25 years have both emphasized the need for early identification and intervention, progress monitoring, functional behavioral assessment, empirically supported procedures and protocols, and a team-based approach. An RtI framework promotes regular attendance for all students at Tier 1, targeted interventions for at-risk students at Tier 2, and intense and individualized interventions for students with chronic absenteeism at Tier 3. Conclusions: An RtI framework such as the one presented here could serve as a blueprint for researchers as well as educational, mental health, and other professionals. To develop this model and further enhance its utility for all youth, researchers and practitioners should strive for consensus in defining key terms related to school attendance and absenteeism and focus more on prevention and early intervention efforts."

Maynard, B. R., Kjellstrand, E. K., & Thompson, A. M. (2013). Effects of Check & Connect on attendance, behavior, and academics: A randomized effectiveness trial. Research on Social Work Practice, 24(3), 296–309.

From the Abstract:
"The present study evaluates the effectiveness of Check & Connect (C&C) in a randomly assigned sample of students who were all receiving Communities in Schools (CIS) services. The research questions for the study include: Are there differences in attendance, academics, and behavior for CIS students who also receive C&C compared to students who only receive CIS services? Nine middle schools, four high schools, and one middle/high school located in a large urban region of the southwestern US comprised the setting for the study. This study used a randomized block design to examine the effectiveness of C&C on academic performance, behavior, and attendance with at-risk middle and high school students. Results provide evidence of the effects of C&C implemented in a real-world setting by school-based practitioners, situating effect sizes within the context of C&C being implemented under conditions that practitioners would normally experience."

Robinson, C. D., Lee, M. G., Dearing, E., & Rogers, T. (2018). Reducing student absenteeism in the early grades by targeting parental beliefs. American Educational Research Journal, 55(6), 1163–1192.

From the Abstract:
"Attendance in kindergarten and elementary school robustly predicts student outcomes. Despite this well-documented association, there is little experimental research on how to reduce absenteeism in the early grades. This paper presents results from a randomized field experiment in 10 school districts evaluating the impact of a low-cost, parent-focused intervention on student attendance in grades K–5. The intervention targeted commonly held parental misbeliefs undervaluing the importance of regular K–5 attendance as well as the number of school days their child had missed. The intervention decreased chronic absenteeism by 15%. This study presents the first experimental evidence on how to improve student attendance in grades K–5 at scale and has implications for increasing parental involvement in education."


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) (Practices OR programs OR intervention)

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.