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Attendance in Middle and High School: Role on Student Achievement and Effective Strategies for Improvement

March 2021

Question:

1. What does research say about the role of attendance on student achievement for middle and/or high school students?
2. What does the research say about effective interventions to improve middle and/or high school attendance?

Response:

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Thank you for the questions you submitted to our REL Reference Desk. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your questions. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on the role of attendance on student achievement and effective interventions to improve attendance.

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive, and other relevant references and resources may exist. References provided are listed in sections with sources in each section in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We do not include sources that are not freely available to the requestor.

Research References

Attendance and Student Achievement

Kirksey, J. J. (2019). Academic harms of missing high school and the accuracy of current policy thresholds: Analysis of preregistered administrative data from a California school district. AERA Open, 5(3), 1–13. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1229689

From the ERIC abstract: “Currently, the state of California has dedicated much focus to reducing absenteeism in schools through the In School + On Track initiative, which revitalizes efforts made to keep accurate and informative attendance data. Additionally, absenteeism has been integrated into California's Local Control and Accountability Plan to monitor district performance and improvement. Given the heightened policy concern surrounding absenteeism and truancy, this study seeks to improve researchers’ understanding of the impacts of missing school for high school students. This study will be the first known study to use preregistered secondary data from a school district, let alone the first preregistered study that seeks to address student attendance in schools.”

London, R. A., Sanchez, M., & Castrechini, S. (2016). The dynamics of chronic absence and student achievement. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(112), 1–31. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1119285

From the ERIC abstract: “Students with low attendance miss important learning and developmental opportunities and research has shown that they are at heightened risk of negative outcomes. Although there is an extensive body of research on truancy, chronic absenteeism is not generally measured or tracked in school data systems and is therefore not as well understood. This analysis uses linked, longitudinal administrative records to examine chronic absence across years for elementary and secondary school students. We investigate chronic absence patterns over time, ramifications of chronic absence on students’ educational outcomes, and effects of continued absence across school years. Results illustrate the cumulative nature of chronic absence and the negative role of persistent chronic absence on students’ educational outcomes. We discuss implications of these results for state policies and intervention procedures.”

Parke, C. S., & Kanyongo, G. Y. (2012). Student attendance, mobility, and mathematics achievement in an urban school district. Journal of Educational Research, 105(3), 161–175. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ960684 Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233058577

From the ERIC abstract: “The authors aim to describe student attendance-mobility within a large urban district in ways that are meaningful and useful to schools and the community. First, the prevalence of mobility and nonattendance in Grades 1-12 across all students and by gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic subgroups is presented. Second, the impact on student mathematics achievement is examined. Results show that nonattendance-mobility negatively impact mathematics achievement as measured by the state's assessment, even after controlling for socioeconomic status and gender. Interestingly, there is not a differential impact across ethnicities. Black and White subgroups show similar patterns of achievement across attendance and mobility levels. Finally, the authors take a closer look at the 10 district high schools to determine where nonattendance-mobility is of particular concern. Implications for districts are discussed in terms of targeting the extent of the problem and where it is occurring, using that information to improve attendance and reduce mobility, and finally, instituting systematic approaches to deal with student movement in and out of schools.”

Interventions to Improve Attendance

Edwards, L. (2013). School counselors improving attendance. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 20(1), 1–5. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1072613

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.”

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. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1084005. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275250576

From the ERIC 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.”

Keown, H., Peters, M., Corrales, A., & Orange, A. (2020). Does start time at high school really matter? Studying the impact of high school start time on achievement, attendance, and graduation rates of high school students. AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 17(2), 16–33. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1259622

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examined the impact of school start times on student achievement, attendance, and graduation rates for high school students. Data from a purposeful sample of 256 high schools across three regions centers (Region IV, Region V, and Region VI) in southeast Texas for the 2017-2018 school year were analyzed. These 256 high schools were sorted by size (small, medium, and large) based on student enrollment. Additionally, interviews from 15 superintendents provided a unique perspective on the process and implementation of altering high school start times. Findings of this research indicated that delaying school start times had a positive impact on achievement, attendance, and graduation rates. Specific insights are provided in terms of the logistical, practical, and political aspects behind the healthy alignment of school start times and the internal clocks of teenagers.”
REL Southwest Note: To access this article using the ERIC direct link, click on the JSP Summer 2020 link.

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. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED562747

From the ERIC 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.”
REL Southwest Note: What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Rating stated, “Does not meet WWC standards because equivalence of the analytic intervention and comparison groups is necessary and not demonstrated.”

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). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED572488

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 than another did. 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.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Attendance Works – https://www.attendanceworks.org/

From the website: “Our mission is to advance student success and help close equity gaps by reducing chronic absence. Broadly defined, chronic absence is missing so much school for any reason that a student is at risk of not reading in the early grades, failing middle school classes and dropping out of high school. Chronic absence data is best used for positive problem solving and early intervention rather than punitive action.
As a national and state initiative, our vision is two-pronged:
  • Better federal, state and local policy and practices around school attendance.
  • Every school district in the country not only tracks chronic absence data beginning in kindergarten—or earlier—but also partners with families and community agencies to intervene as soon as poor attendance becomes a problem for children or particular schools.”
REL Southwest note: Resources in the areas of Positive Engagement, Actionable Data, Building Capacity, and Consulting and Technical Assistance are located here: https://www.attendanceworks.org/resources/

Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP): School of Education, Indiana University Bloomington – https://education.indiana.edu/research/centers/ceep.html

From the website: “CEEP endeavors to improve education and social services through rigorous program evaluation and policy analyses. Working with government, education, human services, and business organizations, CEEP takes a systematic approach to evaluation and education policy research, using a variety of methodologies.”
REL Southwest note: In the report Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism in Indiana: The Impact on Student Achievement, “CEEP research staff studied Indiana’s student attendance and absenteeism data to examine the impact of chronic absenteeism on student achievement. The brief summarizes analysis and conclusions and presents recommendations for policymakers to consider.” This policy brief can be found at https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/23259.

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • middle and high school attendance programs OR practices (student achievement)
  • school attendance (student outcomes)
  • [(“student achievement”) AND (“attendance” OR “attendance patterns”)]
  • [((“middle school" OR “high school”) AND (“student achievement”)) AND (“attendance” OR “attendance patterns”)]
  • [(“practices” OR “programs”) AND (“student achievement” AND “improvement”)]
  • attendance (middle school and high school achievement)
  • student attendance effects
  • secondary student attendance and achievement
  • reducing absenteeism
  • student absences and achievement

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant, peer-reviewed research references. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.7 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched the What Works Clearinghouse.

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 from 2005 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 and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given 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 (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, and so forth), 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 stakeholders in the Southwest Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest at AIR. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-91990018C0002, administered by AIR. 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.