Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

October 31st, 2015

Chronic Absence’s Impact on the Whole Classroom

Research has shown again and again that students who are chronically absent lag behind on test scores and other measures. But what happens to their classmates when there is too much chronic absenteeism in the classroom? Can good attenders suffer academically when their classmates miss too much school?

 A new study by University of California Santa Barbara professor Michael Gottfried shows a clear correlation between high rates of chronic absence in the classroom and weaker academic performance for all students. In fact, students in classes with no chronically absent students had test scores that were 10% higher on average than those in classrooms where half the students were chronic absentees. The spillover effects are especially pronounced for children from low-income families and students with behavioral issues.

Why does this happen? Gottfried suggests that teachers might be slowing down instruction to make sure that chronically absent students catch up. Also, he theorizes that students who are missing that much school can become behavioral problems, disrupting class by acting out. He writes:

“Just like academic disruptions, behavioral disruptions also might slow the learning process for non-absent peers, as teachers must devote their time and resources to classroom management rather than to instruction. Again, while this may occur for any degree of absenteeism, it is hypothesized that chronically absent students might invoke even greater academic and behavioral disruptions.”

Gottfried’s study, Chronic Absence in the Classroom Context: Effects on Achievement, has been accepted for publication in Urban Education. His analysis focuses on elementary school students. He looks specifically at 23,000 third and fourth grade students to evaluate two years of test results. And he chose a large East Coast urban district because many of these districts have large numbers of students facing significant barriers to getting to school every day. His study defines chronic absence as missing 18 or more days in a school year in excused and unexcused absences.

Consistent with prior research, he found students who were chronically absent had lower test scores. What’s unique about this study was that Gottfried found that classmates also scored lower when their peers were chronically absent. In other words, when students in the classroom had good attendance, everyone in that room scored higher than students in classrooms with chronically absent peers. The effects were greater for girls than for boys and also greater for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, a proxy for poverty, and those identified as having a behavioral issue. Gottfried writes:

Thus, those facing additional challenges may be placed at even greater risk for academic decline when considering the role of classmates’ chronic absences. Nonetheless, the findings do indicate that all students are negatively affected by this behavior.

Recognizing this, what can we do? Gottfried recommends:

  • Schools and districts should track chronic absence data rather than looking simply at average daily attendance.
  • Schools and districts should break down chronic absence rates by classrooms, so they can detect possible problems and identify solutions
  • Urban districts and city leadership should examine the barriers that students face in getting to school – such as health problems, unreliable transportation or unstable housing – and address these issues, as well as providing support for students in classes with high chronic absence rates
  • Educators need to focus on absenteeism in the early grades and intervene with students. They should engage community partners, such as afterschool providers and mentoring program, to support chronically absent students.





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October 19th, 2015

Feedback Wanted!

We’re excited about all the engagement and activity we saw during Attendance Awareness Month: 57 nonprofit partners, 403 pins on the action map and now 4,400 people on the attendance listserv.

We’re interested in hearing about your experience: What did you do to take part in September’s events? Were our website and materials helpful? Are there ways we can improve the experience next year?

If you have a moment, please fill out the participants survey  to give us a sense of how you participated this year and how things worked.

If you’re a nonprofit partner, give us feedback on the collaborating partners survey

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October 17th, 2015

Connecting to the Media to Talk Attendance

During Attendance Awareness Month, we kept noticing the great media coverage coming out of publications in the Quad Cites, which span Iowa and Illinois. We asked Alex Kolker, community impact manager of the United Way of the Quad Cities Area, how they did it. Here’s his response:

This year was the first time that the Quad Cities held a full-scale celebration of Attendance Awareness Month. As such, we decided that our main focus should be to increase basic public awareness about the issue.

Our United Way has an Education Council which oversees our Campaign for Grade-Level Reading work. The Council currently includes representatives from building trades, local corporate foundations, the Chamber of Commerce, institutions of higher education, and the superintendents from all eight local public school districts.

When we asked for their guidance on how to best promote the cause, immediately one of the superintendents offered to arrange for us to meet with the editorial board of both local newspapers – the Quad-City Times and the Dispatch/Argus – to ask them to cover the topic. Several other members of the Council volunteered to take part in those presentations.

Five days later, we were sitting down with the Quad-City Times editorial board, and with the Dispatch/Argus editorial board the next day. The President of our United Way, a representative from local business, and four school superintendents participated.

Both editorial boards were supportive of our mission and offered to cover Attendance Awareness Month not just in an editorial but with follow-up articles throughout the year.

Each newspaper published their own editorial, plus a follow-up article. Then, later in the month, they both published a letter drafted and signed by all the members of the Education Council. One of the superintendents wrote his own editorial for the newspaper in the rural outskirts of our community. The United Way President made attendance the focus of his once-a-month interview on a local morning television talk show.

United Way’s VP of Marketing sent out press releases, which resulted in coverage by the local public radio station. She also brought together the communications contacts from the major local school districts; together they created a series of posters (one each at the elementary, middle, and high school levels) to hang in every local school and fliers to send home with the students.

Our main message in all of our press outreach was the impact of absences on their child’s education was not just a concern for educators, children, and their parents. We also had a broader message for other, non-parent Quad Citians: that a child skipping school is not a family problem, it’s a community problem. As the Dispatch/Argus editorial board wrote in their piece:

Most Quad-Citians of a certain age will recall that, as kids, we were not just our parents’ children, we belonged to the neighborhood in which we lived. The lady across the street knew our family and was there to help in times of trouble. We didn’t dare cut class because the man next door would tell mom and dad, and no doubt give us an earful as well.

Today’s kids deserve and need to live in such communities. Help make this one, by being a concerned neighbor. Reach out to help a busy parent by offering a ride to school or being a mentor to a child who need ones. If you see a family’s struggles, call the school district to get them help.

The question we have gotten from other communities is how we were able to get such strong participation from so many community leaders on the issue. The answer is that we didn’t wait for something like Attendance Awareness Month to come up to begin coordinating our efforts.

Our Education Council has grown over the years, through our ongoing work and our willingness to step forward and coordinate our efforts with other organizations – whether they had Council representation or not.

We built that trust, engaged those new partners, slowly but steadily over the last four years, so that, by the time we presented the idea of Attendance Awareness Month to them this past August, we had many of the community’s top education leaders at our table, and they were already actively involved in our work and willing to lend their support.

You can read the editorial signed by the United Way of the Quad Cities Area Education Council here:

You can hear local radio coverage about Attendance Awareness Month, featuring one of our school superintendents, here:

Here are more clips

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