Attendance Works News

October 20th, 2014

Early Attendance Impacts Grit

Absenteeism in kindergarten can affect whether a child develops the grit and perseverance needed to succeed in school, according to a new study by researcher Michael Gottfried at the University of California Santa Barbara. The shows the negative impact of chronic absenteeism on both academic performance and social-emotional skills needed to persist and engage in learning. The effects are particularly pronounced among students who miss four or more weeks of school.

The study, accepted for publication in August 2014 in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, examines results for kindergarten tests measuring reading and math ability, as well as six social and emotional skills.

For the analysis, Gottfried used a U.S. Department of Education data base that tracks 10,740 students. That data base, known as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, includes results for kindergarten tests measuring reading and math ability, as well as six social and emotional skills.

While many researchers define chronic absence as missing 10 percent of the school year or about 18 days, Gottfried used the available data to divide the absentee students into two levels — those missing 11 to 19 days (what he calls “moderate”) and those missing 20 or more days (which he calls “strong”).

Gottfried’s findings include:

  • About 13 percent of the students were chronically absent — 10 percent of them at the moderate level and 3 percent at the strong level.
  • Chronically absent students at both levels performed below their better-attending peers on math and reading skills assessments. The differences were wider in math than reading, and more significant for those missing a month or more than for those at the moderate level.
  • Chronic absence is associated with a lack of certain social skills, including a child’s ability to pay attention, work independently, adapt to change and persist in tasks. It also reflects a lack of eagerness to learn new things and a lack of engagement in school. Again, the differences are greater for the students who miss more school. Poor attendance did not correlate with a child’s ability to control emotions or make friends.
  •  A comparison of social skills testing done in the fall and spring of the kindergarten years found that most students started school with similar levels of engagement. Those with worse attendance showed decreases in
    their engagement in school and eagerness to learn by the spring testing.
  • Family circumstances mattered for chronic absence. Students from low-income families whose parents were
    not married were more likely to be chronically absent.
  • Parent involvement mattered for chronic absence. Students with lower absences had parents who were more
    likely to take them to book stores, music lessons or tutoring, among other activities.
  • Attending preschool mattered. Students who did not attend preschool were more likely to be chronically absent
    in kindergarten.

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October 14th, 2014

Chronic Absenteeism as a Public Health Issue

We know that health issues–whether asthma, dental problems or depression–can contribute to school absenteeism. A new report issued today in Oregon discusses how the converse is true: Absenteeism contributes to lower educational success, which predicts a life time of bad health.

The Connection Between Missing School and Health by Upstream Public Health looks “upstream” at factors in communities, at home, and at schools that lead to chronic absenteeism.

The report reviews data and research on student absences – finding that unexpected factors such as unstable housing, fear of bullying, and punitive school discipline policies as well as health conditions such as hunger, dental pain, respiratory illness, and depression contribute to absenteeism.

Additionally, it explores how adults with less education are more likely to smoke, be overweight, have diabetes, and die prematurely of certain chronic conditions.

The report goes beyond the problem to identifying solutions. It gives case study examples of communities working to address chronic absenteeism locally and beyond Oregon. It stresses using chronic absence data as one factor in allocating and coordinating social service delivery to schools.

“We need that village – when educators work with social services and health professionals they can get the resources that our most vulnerable kids need to be healthy and engaged in school.” suggests Dr. Tia Henderson, Research Manager at Upstream Public Health and lead author of the report.

The recommendations include:

1. Ensure chronic absence data is publicly reported and regularly available to build
awareness and support among parents, students, school administrators, educators,
and community leaders
2. Use chronic absence numbers as one factor in allocating and coordinating health and
social service resource delivery
3. Develop community-wide, cross-sector, and interagency collaboration related to
schools to prevent and address chronic absence
4. Revisit policies to support student attendance – Institutional policies, supports, and systems
can help develop a culture around regular student attendance
5. Identify challenges facing children of color and develop community-driven strategies
to provide social supports
6. Implement pilot strategies and evaluate what works best for different communities

These make sense to us. We know that improving attendance is not just up to schools.  Across the country, we see the most gains occurring when educators and community partners join forces to examine absence data in real time in order to leverage shared resources to take action.

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October 9th, 2014

Afterschool program & activity boost school attendance, cogntive skills

This guest post by Erik Peterson of the Afterschool Alliance was originally posted on the Afternoon Snack Blog.

A recent study conducted by researchers out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that elementary school students who exercised for about an hour a day in an afterschool program had better brain function and were more focused than students who did not engage in much physical activity.

Researchers conducting the nine-month study of 7- to 9-year-olds randomly assigned 221 students to either a structured afterschool program with a strong physical activity component, or assigned them to a wait list for the program. Children in both groups were tested before and after the study period on a series of cognitive and executive control tasks such as memory, multitasking, and ability to resist distractions while focusing on a specific task, in addition to physical fitness assessments.

Students who participated in the afterschool program attended for two hours per day, with at least 60 minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activities like tag, soccer or dribbling a basketball through an obstacle course. Researchers required students in the study to wear heart-rate monitors and pedometers, and provided healthful snacks and rest breaks.

The study found significant differences between the students in the afterschool program and those on the wait list. Students in the intervention group improved two-fold when tested on accuracy and cognitive tasks compared to the students that did not participate in the afterschool program. Researchers found widespread changes in brain function, meaning greater amounts of executive control in the students that engaged in physical activity while participating in the afterschool program. Students in the program also improved both their overall fitness and their school attendance rates.

The study adds to the growing body of research on the positive academic and other outcomes for students who regularly participate in afterschool programs

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