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The relationship between teacher attendance and student achievement — February 2016


What does the research say about the connection between teacher attendance and student achievement?


We have prepared the following memo with references on the connection between teacher attendance and student achievement. Citations include a link to a free online version, when available. All citations are accompanied by an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the author or publisher of the document. We also include relevant organizations.

We have not done an evaluation of the methodological rigor of these resources, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Ahn, T., & Vigdor, J. (2010). The impact of incentives on effort: Teacher bonuses in North Carolina. Program on education policy and governance working papers series (PEPG 10-06). Cambridge, MA: Program on Education Policy and Governance. Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government. Retrieved from

Abstract: Teacher effort, a critical component of education production, has been largely ignored in the literature due to measurement difficulties. Using a principal-agent model, North Carolina public school data, and the state’s unique accountability system that rewards teachers for school-level academic growth, we show that we can distill effort from teacher absence data and capture its effect on student achievement in a structural framework. We find that: (1) Incentives lead teachers to try harder. The bonus program reduced the number of sick days taken by about 0.6 days for an average teacher; (2) When teachers try harder, students do better. Increased effort of teachers translates into improved student performance. Estimates show that standardized reading scores increased by about 1.3% of a standard deviation and standardized math scores by about 0.9% of a standard deviation; and (3) Group-level incentives can actually be more powerful than individual-level incentives. Policy simulations from the model estimates show that an individual bonus program would actually produce weaker incentive effects. While free-rider effects are eliminated, individual incentives push a majority of teachers into one of two categories: those who would qualify for the bonus even without trying and others would not qualify no matter how hard they worked.

Beatty, A. S. (2013). Schools alone cannot close achievement gap. Issues in Science and Technology, 29(3), 69–75. Retrieved from

Abstract: Gaps in student achievement are well documented. Members of some ethnic minority groups and low-income students consistently perform less well on achievement tests than their peers do. Schools clearly make a big difference. Research has established that the students most likely to lag behind academically are those who attend schools with less-qualified teachers and poorer resources. The rigor of the curriculum as it is implemented, the quality of teachers, class size, and teacher absence and turnover all have been shown to influence outcomes for students. In other words, what happens once children enter school may support those with disadvantages, or may perpetuate or exacerbate the gaps. The lack of adequate health care and adequate nutrition and untreated medical and mental health problems also are associated with school problems. Each of these sources of disadvantage may significantly impede a child’s academic progress, and these risk factors tend to cluster together, exacerbating their effects.

Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2009). Are teacher absences worth worrying about in the United States? Education Finance and Policy, 4(2), 115–149. Retrieved from

Abstract: Using detailed data from North Carolina, we examine the frequency, incidence, and consequences of teacher absences in public schools as well as the impact of a policy designed to reduce absences. The incidence of teacher absences is regressive: when schools are ranked by the fraction of students receiving free or reduced price lunches, teachers in the lowest income quartile average almost one extra sick day per school year than teachers in the highest income quartile, and schools with persistently high rates of teacher absence were much more likely to serve low-income than high-income students. In regression models incorporating teacher fixed effects, absences are associated with lower student achievement in elementary grades. Finally, we present evidence that the demand for discretionary absences is price elastic. Our estimates suggest that a policy intervention that simultaneously raises teacher base salaries and broadens financial penalties for absences could both raise teachers’ expected incomes and lower districts’ expected costs.

Davis, T. M. (2013). Charter school competition, organization, and achievement in traditional public schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(88), 1–33. Retrieved from

Abstract: Market models of education reform predict that the growth of charter schools will infuse competition into the public school sector, forcing traditional public schools to improve the practices they engage in to educate students. Some scholars have criticized these models, arguing that competition from charter schools is unlikely to produce significant change among public schools. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class, I attempt to identify potential mechanisms linking charter competition to achievement in traditional public schools. The results provide little support for the market model. Competition from charter schools is not associated with reading or math scores, and is only associated with three of ten organizational measures. There is some support for an indirect relationship between math achievement and competition through reductions in teacher absenteeism, but these results fall short of meeting conventional thresholds for statistical significance.

Duflo, E., & Hanna, R. (2005). Monitoring works: Getting teachers to come to school (NBER Working Paper No. 11880). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

Abstract: In the rural areas of developing countries, teacher absence is a widespread problem. This paper tests whether a simple incentive program based on teacher presence can reduce teacher absence, and whether it has the potential to lead to more teaching activities and better learning. In 60 informal one-teacher schools in rural India, randomly chosen out of 120 (the treatment schools), a financial incentive program was initiated to reduce absenteeism. Teachers were given a camera with a tamper-proof date and time function, along with instructions to have one of the children photograph the teacher and other students at the beginning and end of the school day. The time and date stamps on the photographs were used to track teacher attendance. A teacher’s salary was a direct function of his attendance. The remaining 60 schools served as comparison schools. The introduction of the program resulted in an immediate decline in teacher absence. The absence rate (measured using unannounced visits both in treatment and comparison schools) changed from an average of 42 percent in the comparison schools to 22 percent in the treatment schools. When the schools were open, teachers were as likely to be teaching in both types of schools, and the number of students present was roughly the same. The program positively affected child achievement levels: a year after the start of the program, test scores in program schools were 0.17 standard deviations higher than in the comparison schools and children were 40 percent more likely to be admitted into regular schools.

Joseph N., Waymack, N., & Zielaski, D. (2014). Roll call: The importance of teacher attendance. Washington, DC: National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Retrieved from

Abstract: While policymakers have been directing considerable attention to teacher effectiveness, one basic aspect of effectiveness has received relatively little attention: teacher attendance. No matter how engaging or talented teachers may be, they can only have an impact on student learning if they are in the classroom. This paper asks a simple question: How often are teachers in the classroom and what factors influence their attendance? Using school district data for 40 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas for the 2012–2013 school year, we found:

  • On average, public school teachers were in the classroom 94 percent of the school year, missing nearly 11 days out of a 186-day school year (the average school year length). Teachers used slightly less than all of the short-term leave offered by the district, an average of 13 days in the 40 districts.
  • 16 percent of all teachers were classified as chronically absent teachers because they missed 18 days or more in the school year, accounting for almost a third of all absences.
  • In spite of previous research to the contrary, this study did not find a relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of the children in the school building.
  • Districts with formal policies in place to discourage teacher absenteeism did not appear to have better attendance rates than those without such policies, suggesting that the most common policies are not particularly effective.

Improving teacher attendance most likely requires greater focus in which detailed attendance data are tracked both by the school principal and the central office. Teacher attendance needs to be a higher and more public priority for school districts that is complemented by school cultures that expect excellent teacher attendance.

Miller, R. (2012). Teacher absence as a leading indicator of student achievement: New national data offer opportunity to examine cost of teacher absence relative to learning loss. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

Abstract: This report uses the Civil Rights Data Collection dataset released in early 2012 to raise questions and drive debate about the subject of teacher absence. This dataset comes from the first national survey to include school-level information on teacher absence. The measure constructed from this information is the percentage of teachers who were absent more than 10 times during the year. The Department of Education calls the measure a “leading indicator,” a reasonable label given the documented relationship between absence rates measured at the teacher level and student achievement. Yet very little is known about the properties of this new school-level measure. This report also notes that teacher absence is yet another item that can be added to the list of ways in which charter schools differ from traditional public schools. Teachers are absent from traditional public schools more than 10 times per year at a rate that is 15.2 percentage points higher than in charter schools. This report also supplies evidence that students in schools serving high proportions of African American or Latino students are disproportionately exposed to teacher absence. Holding constant the grade-level and whether a school is a charter, a school with its proportion of African American students in the 90th percentile has a teacher absence rate that is 3.5 percentage points higher than a school in the 10th percentile. The corresponding differential based on percentages of Latino students is 3.2 percentage points. With these and other findings, this report seeks to draw attention to the too long-neglected subject of teacher absence. The costs of teacher absence, both in financial and academic terms, can no longer be borne in silence. The abundance of variation in teacher absence behavior, both between districts and within, means that there is room in many districts and individual schools for teachers to have adequate access to paid leave while being absent less frequently.

Miller, R. T., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2008). Do teacher absences impact student achievement? Longitudinal evidence from one urban school district. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(2), 181–200. Retrieved from

Abstract: This article exploits highly detailed data on teacher absences from a large urban school district in the northern United States to shed light on the determinants and effects of teacher absences. The topic is important because both school and district policies can influence teachers’ propensity to be absent. The authors estimate the impact of teacher absences on academic achievement of students matched to elementary school teachers. Models include fixed effects for teachers to control statistically for potential correlation between time-invariant levels of teachers’ skill and effort and their rates of absence. The authors estimate 10 additional days of teacher absence reduce mathematics achievement of fourth-grade students by 3.2% of a standard deviation. They employ an additional instrumental variables strategy to bolster the case for a causal interpretation of results. Instrumental variables results indicate the impact of unexpected teacher absences on student achievement is larger than the impact of anticipated absences.

Miller, R. T., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2008). Do worker absences affect productivity? The case of teachers. International Labor Review, 147(1), 71–89. Retrieved from

Abstract: This article studies the impact of teacher absences on education. Using data spanning three academic years about 285 teachers and 8,631 predominantly economically disadvantaged students from a United States urban school district, it tests assumptions that a substantial portion of teachers’ absences is discretionary and that these absences reduce productivity—students’ mathematics scores. Since absent teachers are typically replaced by less qualified substitutes, instructional intensity and consistency may decline: ten days of teacher absence reduce students’ achievement score by about 3.3 percent of a standard deviation—enough to lower some students’ designation in the state proficiency system and, thus, their motivation to succeed.

Speas, C. M. (2010). Teacher absences: Types, frequency, and impact on student achievement, Wake County Public School System, 2007–08. Measuring up (E&R Report No. 09.37). Cary, NC: Wake County Public Schools. Retrieved from

Abstract: In 2007–08, the WCPSS teacher absence rate was 10.3 days, slightly higher than a national rate of 9.5 days in 2004–05 but lower than the 11.3 to 14.6 days reported in large school districts more recently. In comparison with other studies, WCPSS teachers averaged smaller proportions of personal and sick leave days, slightly more annual leave days, and a higher proportion of administrative leave days. Teacher absences varied by years of experience and by schools’ grade span and proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. Overall, there is some evidence, low but significant, of a negative relationship between teacher absences and mathematics achievement in two of six grades, but not in reading or six high school courses. These and other findings, including screening and costs of substitute teachers, are detailed in this report.

Roby, D. (2013). Teacher attendance effects on student achievement: Research study of Ohio schools. Education, 134(2), 201–206. Retrieved from

Abstract: Accountability for student learning and successful progression through each grade level has been a top priority concern for federal, state, and local educators. Studies have revealed several variables affecting student achievement, with much attentiveness on student attendance (Barrington & Hendricks, 1989; Borland & Howsen, 1998; Courts, 1996; Gottfried, M., 2009; Johnson, 2000; King, 2000; Lamdin, 1996; Ramani et al., 2007; Roby, 2004). This study focuses on teacher attendance as a variable potentially affecting student achievement. Schools in Ohio with low teacher attendance rates were compared with schools revealing high teacher attendance averages. For comparison purposes, Ohio Department of Education data was accessed, which included attendance rates of teachers and students, school performance indicators, adequate yearly progress, and individual school ratings. Statistical analysis included comparison of means, standard deviations, percentages, and t test ratios. Results disclose significant differences for teacher, student, and school performance rankings.

Relevant organizations to consult

Attendance Works

From the website: 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. Our three objectives are:

  • Build public awareness and political will about the need to address chronic absence. This includes extensive media outreach as well as working with key national organizations to spread the word about why this issue matters and explore the role federal government can play. It also includes explaining the critical difference between chronic absence and truancy.
  • Foster state campaigns by developing coalitions to advance state and local policies that promote tracking attendance for individual students and reporting on chronic absence to ensure schools, especially if they are low-performing, will intervene to improve student attendance.
  • Encourage local practice by providing technical assistance and tools to help communities, schools and school districts monitor and work together to address chronic absence. This includes creating peer learning networks and tapping skills and assets available from state and national organizations.

National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)

From the website: The National Council on Teacher Quality is led by the vision that every child deserves effective teachers. As a nonpartisan research and policy organization, we recognize that it is not teachers who bear responsibility for their profession’s many challenges, but the institutions with the greatest authority and influence over teachers. To that end we work to achieve fundamental changes in the policy and practices of teacher preparation programs, school districts, state governments, and teachers unions. We advocate for reforms at the federal, state and local levels.


Keywords and Search Strings Used in the Search

(“Teacher attendance” OR “teacher absenteeism”) AND (“student achievement”)

Search of Databases

EBSCO Host, ERIC, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, Google, and Google Scholar

Criteria for Inclusion

When REL West staff review resources, they consider—among other things—four factors:

  • Date of the Publication: The most current information is included, except in the case of nationally known seminal resources.
  • Source and Funder of the Report/Study/Brief/Article: Priority is given to IES, nationally funded, and certain other vetted sources known for strict attention to research protocols.
  • Methodology: Sources include randomized controlled trial studies, surveys, self-assessments, literature reviews, and policy briefs. Priority for inclusion generally is given to randomized controlled trial study findings, but the reader should note at least the following factors when basing decisions on these resources: numbers of participants (Just a few? Thousands?); selection (Did the participants volunteer for the study or were they chosen?); representation (Were findings generalized from a homogeneous or a diverse pool of participants? Was the study sample representative of the population as a whole?).
  • Existing Knowledge Base: Although we strive to include vetted resources, there are times when the research base is limited or nonexistent. In these cases, we have included the best resources we could find, which may include newspaper articles, interviews with content specialists, organization websites, and other sources.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educators and policymakers in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-12-C-0002, administered by WestEd. 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.