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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Warning Systems - Attendance

June 2017


What does the research say about evidence-based practices or interventions that improve student attendance?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on evidence-based practices or interventions that increase student success in attendance, an early warning system indicator. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to attendance for high school students. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Brown, A., & Lee, J. (2014). School performance in elementary, middle, and high school: A comparison of children based on HIPPY participation during the preschool years. School Community Journal, 24(2), 83–106. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of the Home Improvement for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program on school performance during the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th grades. The study employed a quasi-experimental, post-hoc design using existing data on children who participated in the HIPPY program as 3-, 4-, or 5-year-olds, including: Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) scores, attendance records, school retention, and discipline referrals. Independent samples t-tests and chi-square analysis revealed that in all four grades HIPPY children had significantly higher rates of school attendance, were retained less often, had fewer repeat discipline referrals, scored higher, and had higher pass rates on the Reading and Math TAKS than matching children without HIPPY experience. Results indicate that children who participated in the HIPPY program as a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old appear to have benefited long-term from the experience. The results also suggest that the HIPPY program intervention can increase school achievement and build a strong base for school success."

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

From the ERIC 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."

Faria, A. M., Sorensen, N., Heppen, J., Bowdon, J., Taylor, S., Eisner, R., & Foster, S. (2017). Getting students on track for graduation: Impacts of the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System after one year (REL 2017-272). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Although high school graduation rates are rising-the national rate was 82 percent during the 2013/14 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2015)-dropping out remains a persistent problem in the Midwest and nationally. Many schools now use early warning systems to identify students who are at risk of not graduating, with the goal of intervening early to help students get back on track for on- time graduation. Although research has guided decisions about the types of data and indicators used to flag students as being at risk, little is known about the impact of early warning systems on students and schools-and in particular, whether these systems do help get students back on track. This study, designed in collaboration with the REL Midwest Dropout Prevention Research Alliance, examined the impact and implementation of one early warning system-the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS)-on student and school outcomes...The study found that EWIMS reduced the percentage of students with risk indicators related to chronic absence and course failure but not related to low GPAs or suspension."

Johnson, K. C., & Lampley, J. H. (2010). Mentoring at-risk middle school students. SRATE Journal, 19(2), 64–69. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "This study examined a mentoring program entitled: LISTEN (Linking Individual Students To Educational Needs). The LISTEN mentoring program was a district-sponsored, school-based program in which at-risk, middle school students were identified by the school system and mentors were recruited specifically to assist these students with school performance or related issues. Archival data from the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years were collected to determine the possible effects of the LISTEN mentoring program on at-risk students in grades six through eight. Specifically, the study investigated the relationship of a mentoring program with at-risk students’ GPAs, discipline referrals, and attendance records. A statistically significant difference was found for GPAs, discipline referrals, and attendance rates between those measured pre-intervention and those measured post-intervention."

Maynard, B. R., Brendel, K. E., Bulanda, J. J., Thompson, A. M., & Pigott, T. D. (2015). Psychosocial interventions for school refusal behavior with primary and secondary school students: A Campbell systematic review and meta-analysis. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "School refusal behavior, affecting between 1% and 5% of school-age children, is a psychosocial problem for students characterized by severe emotional distress and anxiety at the prospect of going to school, leading to difficulties in attending school and, in some cases, significant absences from school (Burke & Silverman, 1987; Elliot, 1999; King, Ollendick, & Tonge, 1995; King, Tonge, Heyne, Pritchard, Rollings, Young, et al., 1998; Heyne, King, Tonge, & Cooper, 2001; Kahn, Nursten, & Carroll, 1981). Children who present with school refusal may meet criteria for multiple internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, including anxiety, depression, phobia, separation anxiety, aggression, temper tantrums, and non-compliance (Egger, Costello, & Angold, 2003; Heyne et al., 2001; Kearney, 2001). Children and parents experience significant adverse consequences from school refusal. A child may miss an excessive number of days of school, leading to poor academic performance and disruptions in social and extracurricular activities (King & Bernstein, 2001). School refusal may also negatively affect family and peer relationships (Berg & Nursten, 1996). Long-term problems in social adjustment may also occur, including psychiatric disturbance (Heyne et al., 2001). The purpose of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions designed to increase school attendance and decrease anxiety for students who exhibit school refusal behavior. The following research questions guided this study: (1) Do interventions targeting school refusal behavior improve attendance?; and (2) Do interventions targeting school refusal behavior decrease anxiety? The present review found relatively few rigorous studies of interventions for school refusal behavior. All studies that did meet inclusion criteria assessed effects of a variant of cognitive behavioral therapy, thus there appears to be a lack of rigorous evidence of other types of interventions for school refusal behavior."

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. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Reducing student absenteeism is a key part of the School District of Philadelphia's plan to boost graduation rates. One of the district's goals is to increase guardians' awareness of absenteeism, with the hope that greater awareness will lead to guardians' taking a more active role in improving their student's attendance and academic performance. In an effort to increase guardians' awareness of absenteeism, the School District of Philadelphia partnered with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic to conduct a randomized controlled trial, which is based on the principles of 'nudge' theory. Nudge theory is an approach used in the behavioral sciences that involves unobtrusive interventions to promote desired behaviors (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). In this study the 'nudge' was a single postcard sent to guardians to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and whether one message on the postcard had a greater impact on reducing absenteeism In October 2014 postcards with different messages-one encouraging guardians to improve their student's attendance and the other encouraging guardians to improve their student's attendance and adding specific information about the child's attendance history-were sent to the homes of students in grades 1-12 to see what impact, if any, the message would have on absenteeism through the end of December 2014. A control group received no mailings from the district. The absence information provided on the postcard was for the previous school year (2013/14). The study found that a single postcard that encouraged guardians to improve their student's attendance reduced absences by roughly 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in absences between students whose guardians were sent one message rather than the other. An additional analysis to examine whether there was a differential impact of the postcards on elementary versus secondary students’ absences showed that the effect of the postcard did not differ between students in grades 1-8 and students in grades 9-12. This study has three main limitations. First, the unexpectedly large number of unique school-grade combinations limited statistical power by yielding an average of 40 students per school-grade combination. Second, students who did not have reliable mailing addresses were excluded from the study. Third, the number of school days analyzed in the study occurred within a short timeframe (there were 43 school days between October 9 and December 31). Even without any outreach from the district, the average student missed very few days of school in this timeframe. So if the average student whose household did not receive a postcard was absent for only three days of school, any intervention could reduce the average absence by a maximum of three days."

Rogers, T., & Feller, A. (2016). Parent beliefs and student absences: Large absence-reduction field experiment. Paper presented at the Society for Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "School attendance is a robust predictor of course performance, and it is consistently the strongest predictor of high school dropout, even more so than suspensions and test scores. Focusing on getting students to school is an essential part of decreasing high school dropout rates. What is concerning is that up to 20% of students miss essentially a month or more of schooling in a year. Recent work suggests that guardians are unaware of how their student’s attendance compares to that of their classmates; moreover, they often are very miscalibrated in estimating how many days of school their own student has been absent. The objective of the project presented in this study is to motivate parents/guardians to improve student attendance through multiple communications during the school year. The project addresses the following research questions: (1) Does contacting guardians and encouraging them to improve their students' attendance reduce absences?; (2) Does communicating to guardians the total number of days their student missed reduce absences?; (3) Does communicating to guardians the total number of days their student missed as compared to the absences of a typical student reduce absences?; and (4) Do these interventions also impact the attendance of other students in the household not explicitly mentioned in the mailings? The study involves students and their guardians in all public elementary, middle, and high schools in a major metropolitan school district. This study incorporated various data sets exported directly from the administrative records of the school district. The data sets included student demographics and enrollment data, guardian contact information, and attendance data. This study identifies an easy-to-implement, extremely cost-effective way to reduce absenteeism. This intervention cost around $6 per incremental day of attendance it generated. Back-of-the-envelope estimates of the cost per incremental day of attendance from social workers and truancy officers is around $50-$100."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2015, May). Dropout Prevention intervention report: Check & Connect. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "'Check & Connect' aims to help students stay in school by continually monitoring school performance and providing individualized attention through mentoring, case management, and other supports. In 2006, the WWC published a systematic review of all the studies that examined the impact of 'Check & Connect' on high school students with learning, behavioral, or emotional disabilities who are at risk of dropping out. The WWC recently updated this report to include more recent publications. Based on the most up-to-date evidence, the WWC found that ‘Check & Connect’ has positive effects on staying in school, potentially positive effects on progressing in school, and no discernible effects on completing school for high school students with learning, behavioral, or emotional disabilities."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2014, September). WWC review of the report "Meeting the challenge of combating chronic absenteeism: Impact of the NYC Mayor's Interagency Task Force on chronic absenteeism and school attendance and its implications for other cities." Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "The 2013 study, 'Meeting the Challenge of Combating Chronic Absenteeism: Impact of the NYC Mayor's Interagency Task Force on Chronic Absenteeism and School Attendance and Its Implications for Other Cities,' examined the impact of the strategies developed by an interagency task force in New York City to combat chronic absenteeism in public schools. The strategies involved efforts both inside and outside of schools and aimed to improve coordination of services, provide mentoring through the Success Mentors program, and utilize data to monitor students at risk. The study assessed the impacts of the full set of strategies and of the Success Mentors program separately. The WWC determined that both sets of analyses do not meet WWC group design standards. The groups of students compared in the analysis of the full set of strategies were not equivalent on either baseline chronic absenteeism rates or demographic characteristics. Therefore, the differences in outcomes for these groups cannot be attributed solely to the intervention. For the impact analysis of the Success Mentors program, the study groups differed in whether they participated in Success Mentors and in the amount of chronic absenteeism strategies they employed. As a result, the differences in outcomes between the students who participated in Success Mentors and students who did not conflates the effect of the Success Mentors program with the effect of the broader set of strategies used to combat chronic absenteeism."

Additional Organizations to Consult

Attendance Works –

From the website: "Attendance Works is a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. We promote tracking chronic absence data for each student beginning in kindergarten, or ideally earlier, and partnering with families and community agencies to intervene when poor attendance is a problem for students or schools."

Early Warning Systems Pathway –

From the website: "AIR focuses on ensuring that an early warning system (EWS) is used to take action. We guide leaders and educators through a research-based process of identifying at-risk students, targeting supports, and monitoring students to improve graduation outcomes. Our knowledge of EWS, including the development of tools and resources to support implementation, and our extensive experience in providing EWS design, technical assistance, and training to stakeholders makes AIR an ideal partner in supporting at-risk students."

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network –

From the website: "The mission of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network is to increase graduation rates through research and evidence-based solutions. Since inception, the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network has worked to improve opportunities for all young people to fully develop the academic, social, work, and healthy life skills needed to graduate from high school and lead productive lives. By promoting awareness of successful programs and policies related to dropout prevention, the work of the Network and its members has made an impact on education from the local to the national level."

What Works Clearinghouse –,Dropout- Prevention

From the website: "The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question 'What works in education?'"


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • practices OR interventions AND attendance -high school students, high schools, grade 9, grade 10, middle school students, middle schools, junior high schools, elementary school students,

  • practices OR interventions AND absenteeism

  • practices OR interventions AND truancy

Databases and Search Engines

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).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its 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.