The Impact of Truancy on Student Performance

In 2010, Nebraska passed a law requiring schools to refer students to juvenile court when they accrue over 20 absences.  However, according to the Omaha World Herald, new data suggests that the number of students who missed more than 20 days may have increased during the 2010-2011 school year.  In light of this preliminary data, Nebraska is considering possible improvements to the law.  A task force convened in early July 2011 suggested focusing on curbing truancy in elementary school before it becomes habitual.  The panel also recommended lowering the threshold for referral to the court system, so that students would be referred to the juvenile court earlier. Nebraska’s truancy problem is hardly unique, and several other states have developed plans to combat rising truancy numbers.  According to the US News and World Report, New York City has implemented an extensive Check and Connect Program to combat rampant absenteeism in the country’s largest school district. The district estimates that one fifth of all students miss over a month of school.  This fall, Anaheim, California, will begin a pilot program to assign GPS tracking devices to seventh and eighth graders with more than four unexcused absences, according to the same US News and World Report article.  The device will be used to check in with an assigned mentor five times a day and verify students’ locations. Additionally, the Huffington Post reports that the San Francisco suburb of Concord, California, is considering a law that would fine students up to 500 dollars for being caught out of school. Concerns over truancy are fueled by the growing body of research connecting absenteeism with poor student performance.  Nebraska found fourth graders who missed over 20 days scored on average 21 points lower on state reading assessments.  Additional research has highlighted a correlation between poor attendance and dropping out of high school.  A 2007 Consortium on Chicago School Research report, “What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public Schools,” by Elaine Allensworth and John Easton, found that incoming ninth graders’ chances of graduating in four years decreased exponentially as their absences increased [see figure below][1].  Additional research has suggested that the correlation between poor attendance and low graduation rates is evident even before high school.  Dr. Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center and research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, concluded in a recent brief that “[s]chool districts with low graduation rates usually have significant—and often unrecognized —chronic absenteeism in the middle grades.”[2] The National High School Center has worked extensively to create an Early Warning System which identifies high school students at risk of dropping out based on several factors, including attendance.  Our Early Warning System Tool v2.0 can be used to identify, track and assign interventions to at risk students based on readily available student data.  We encourage all schools to recognize the risk truancy poses to student performance. Author: Matthew Hauenstein is a Research Assistant at the American Institutes for Research and a member of the High School Matters blog editorial team. Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders. 

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