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October 2017

Ask A REL Question:

What are evidence-based approaches to address chronic absenteeism or improve attendance?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding evidence-based approaches to address absenteeism or improve attendance. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Chang, H.N. & Jordan, P.W. (2011). Tackling Chronic Absence Starting in the Early Grades What Cities Can Do to Ensure Every Child Has a Fighting Chance to Succeed, National Civic Review, 100(4), 6-12
    From the article: “In Baltimore, the mayor’s office, school officials, community partners, and philanthropic leaders worked together on a key educational strategy: improving school attendance. In New York, the mayor catalyzed a comprehensive citywide response by establishing an interagency task force to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to reduce absenteeism, analyzing data, launching interventions in an initial pilot round of twenty-five schools and tapping community resources, celebrities, mentors, and businesses to encourage students, as early as kindergarten, to go to school more regularly. And in Oakland, California, city leaders, educators, and foundations are using a detailed analysis of attendance patterns to begin building a citywide approach to reducing chronic absenteeism.

    These cities, like others across the country, are recognizing the power of attendance to improve student achievement. Often overlooked amid the emphasis on standardized test scores, attendance numbers can reveal which students—and schools—are headed off track academically. When properly analyzed, the data can tip off city leaders to deeper community problems and suggest where the city should focus its resources to help students and families overcome common barriers to getting to school.’

  2. Gottfried, M.A. (2017). Linking getting to school with going to school, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 20(10), 1-22.
    From the abstract: "Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have recently aligned efforts to reduce school absenteeism, particularly during kindergarten when excessive absences are highest out of all elementary grades. Little is known, however, about whether the way in which students get to school might influence if they go to school. To address this gap, this study was the first to address the role of school bus-taking on reducing school absences. Using a national large-scale dataset of children (the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011), the findings suggest that children who took the school bus to kindergarten had fewer absent days over the school year and were less likely to be chronically absent compared with children who commuted to school in any other way. Given that many districts are considering cutting or restricting bus services, this study brings to question whether doing so might limit the resources upon which families rely to ensure their children attend school each day. Implications are discussed."
  3. McCluskey, C. P., Bynum, T.S. & Patchin, J.W. (2004). Reducing chronic absenteeism: An assessment of an early truancy initiative, Crime & Delinquency, 50(2), 214-234.
    From the abstract: “Chronic school absenteeism has been identified as a precursor to undesirable outcomes in adolescence, including academic failure, school dropout, and juvenile delinquency. In spite of its effect on adolescent functioning, little research has been conducted to identify effective methods of truancy reduction, particularly among elementary-aged students. This article presents the assessment of an initiative developed to reduce truancy in three elementary schools. Findings suggest that the program was successful in substantially reducing absenteeism among those with chronic attendance problems. Implications for future programs targeting at-risk youth are discussed.”
  4. Rogers, T., Duncan, T., Wolford, T., Ternovski, J., Subramanyam, S., & Reitano, A. (2017). A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (REL 2017– 252). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.
    From the abstract: “This randomized controlled trial, conducted in collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia, finds that a single postcard that encouraged guardians to improve their student’s attendance reduced absences by roughly 2.4 percent. Guardians received one of two types of message: one encouraging guardians to improve their student’s attendance or one encouraging guardians to improve their student’s attendance that also included specific information about the student’s attendance history. There was no statistically significant difference in absences between students according to which message their guardians received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between students in grades 1–8 and students in grades 9–12.”
  5. Sheldon, S.B. & Epstein, J.L. (2004). Getting Students to School: Using Family and Community Involvement to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism, School Community Journal, 14(2), 39-56.
    From the abstract: "Students who are chronically absent are more likely than other students to drop out of school. Many schools have goals to reduce student truancy and to help chronically absent students attend school regularly. Few studies, however, have focused on whether or how family and community involvement help reduce rates of chronic absenteeism. In this longitudinal study, data were collected from 39 schools on rates of chronic absenteeism and on specific family and community involvement activities that were implemented to reduce this serious problem for student learning. Results indicate that school, family, and community partnership practices can significantly decrease chronic absenteeism, even after school level and prior rates of absenteeism are taken into account. In particular, communicating with families about attendance, celebrating good attendance with students and families, and connecting chronically absent students with community mentors measurably reduced students' chronic absenteeism from one year to the next. Also, schools that conducted a greater total number of attendance-focused activities were more likely to decrease the percentage of students who missed twenty or more days of school each year."
  6. Van Cura, M. (2010). The relationship between school-based health centers, rates of early dismissal from school, and loss of seat time, Journal of School Health, 80(8), 371-377.
    From the abstract: “This study sought to understand the relationship between school-based health centers (SBHCs) and academic outcomes such as early dismissal and loss of seat time (the time students are available in school to learn or to access support services). A quasi-experimental research design was used to compare rates of early dismissal and loss of seat time between students who received SBHC and traditional school nursing services and students who received only traditional school nursing services. This study was a secondary data analysis of 764 "walk-in" visits during a 3-week period in 2 urban high schools in western New York state. Both schools provided school nursing services, and 1 of the 2 offered the option to enroll in an SBHC. SBHCs significantly reduced the number of early dismissals from school (p = .013) in a comparison with students who received school nursing services alone. Students not enrolled in an SBHC lost 3 times as much seat time as students enrolled in an SBHC. Race, gender, age, poverty status, and presence of a preexisting illness did not influence these findings. These findings suggest that SBHCs have a direct impact on educational outcomes such as attendance. Recommendations for further research include replication of this study to increase confidence in its findings and using early dismissal and loss of seat time as indicators of attendance to measure other health outcomes related to SBHCs and school nursing."
  7. Woods, E., Bhaumik, U., Sommer, S., Ziniel, S., Kessler, A., Chan, E., Wilkinson, R., Sesma, M., Burack, A., Klements, E., Queenin, L., Dickerson, D., & Nethersole, S. (2012). Community asthma initiative: Evaluation of a quality improvement program for comprehensive asthma care. Pediatrics, 129(3), 465-472.
    From the abstract: “The objective of this study was to assess the cost effectiveness of a quality improvement (QI) program in reducing asthma emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, limitation of physical activity, patient missed school, and parent missed work. Urban, low-income patients with asthma from 4 zip codes were identified through logs of ED visits or hospitalizations, and offered enhanced care including nurse case management and home visits. QI evaluation focused on parent-completed interviews at enrollment, and at 6- and 12-month contacts. Hospital administrative data were used to assess ED visits and hospitalizations at enrollment, and 1 and 2 years after enrollment. Hospital costs of the program were compared with the hospital costs of a neighboring community with similar demographics. The program provided services to 283 children. Participants were 55.1% male; 39.6% African American, 52.3% Latino; 72.7% had Medicaid; 70.8% had a household income < $25 000. Twelve-month data show a significant decrease in any (>1) asthma ED visits (68.0%) and hospitalizations (84.8%), and any days of limitation of physical activity (42.6%), patient missed school (41.0%), and parent missed work (49.7%) (all P < .0001). Patients with greatest functional impairment from ED visits, limitation of activity, and missed school were more likely to have any nurse home visit and greater number of home visits. There was a significant reduction in hospital costs compared with the comparison community (P < .0001), and a return on investment of 1.46. The program showed improved health outcomes and cost-effectiveness and generated information to guide advocacy efforts to finance comprehensive asthma care.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Attendance Works:
    From the website: "Established in 2010, Attendance Works is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success starting with school entry. Our goal is to ensure that every district in the country not only tracks chronic absence data beginning in kindergarten or ideally earlier, but also partners with families and community agencies to intervene when attendance is a problem for children or particular schools.”
  • The National Center for School Engagement:
    From the website: "The National Center for School Engagement (NCSE), collaborates with school districts, law enforcement agencies, courts, and state and federal agencies to support youth and their families to be engaged at school. We pay special attention to truancy, dropout, and bullying prevention.”


Search Strings: attendance OR absenteeism OR truancy OR chronic absenteeism AND intervention

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • EBSCO databases
  • Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL)
  • Institute of Education Sciences (IES)
  • Center on Innovations in Learning
  • Education Commission of the States
  • Center on Education Policy
  • Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
  • National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
  • Attendance Works
  • National High School Center
  • The National Center for School Engagement
  • National Dropout Prevention Center
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. 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.