Absenteeism and Student Performance

People have strong opinions about almost anything and the issue of education is no exception. How these opinions have been formed needs to be examined. This is what good research does. It informs and guides. A myriad of factors influence education and oftentimes, these factors are not independent from each other. Factors interact, sometimes these add, and other times, these subtract. General notions therefore need to be carefully drawn. Writing articles on education can also be quite challenging. When problems in basic education involve an inability to think critically, it is difficult to reach the audience and convey the correct message. Oftentimes, sarcasm is lost so such style of writing needs to be avoided. For people who are convinced of their wisdom and understanding of how education works, profound messages from basic research can be often easily lost.

Education Week recently came out with an article, "School Absences Translate to Lower Test Scores, Study Says". One of the first comments on the article was "Really? We need a study to show a link between absences and achievement". This is followed by "Another obvious finding..., A wise man once said that data that is easy to gather is meaningless". And then, "Duh!" The article related the following important findings from the study:
"Three days, if you multiply that out by nine months, is five weeks a year," Mr. Ginsburg said. "You've got more than a quarter of the below-basic kids who are going to miss five weeks of school a year or more," he said, noting that only 8 percent of students at the advanced level had missed that much school. "That, to me, would be something that if you are a chief state school officer or a superintendent, you might worry about."
The study showed that being absent for three days in a month strongly correlates with poor performance. As educators, it is important to know the threshold. Drawing policies on school intervention regarding absenteeism requires guiding information on where to draw the line. Policies cannot be simply drawn out of thin air. Three days in a month, that number, a result of research, is a useful guide for teachers and school administrators. The study as described by the article is only an initial analysis of the data. Ongoing research will continue to unravel further the underlying factors that result into absenteeism. This is an important task since this information likewise is necessary to design the interventions that are relevant.

Among the comments on the article is an informed one and it brings us to another website, "Attendance Works: Advancing Student Success by Reducing Chronic Absence".
"Sure, the connection between attendance and achievement is obvious. But do you know how many students in your district or your school are missing 10% of the school year, the point where research shows that absenteeism undermines academic performance? Unless you live in Maryland, probably not. Most schools measure average daily attendance (who shows up) and truancy (who's skipping). But they don't look at who's missing too much school in excused and unexcused absences. When they do, they get to some of the "why"--asthma, homelessness, transportation problems, boredom--and they can figure out how to address it."
And I took the liberty to share in this blog, two figures from the website that imply the long term consequences of absenteeism:

I simply do not understand why anyone thinks that this type of data is meaningless. It informs us so that we need not pretend that we are all-knowing and certain of our prejudices.


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