Blog Article

Is a Mismatch in Grades and Achievement Contributing To Chronic Absenteeism?

March 20, 2024

There is a significant mismatch between student’s grades, high chronic absenteeism and families’ understanding of how well students are doing in school, according to a new report from the nonprofit groups, EdNavigator, Learning Heroes, and TNTP.

Is this false signal to families about grades and student achievement contributing to the misconception that students don’t need to show up regularly to school to learn and academically achieve?

The report, False Signals: How Pandemic-Era Grades Mislead Families and Threaten Student Learning, dives deep into the relationship between attendance, learning and grades to show how these are important signals to families about how their children are doing in school.

The researchers examined data from two public school districts between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. As expected, they found that the number of students chronically absent and not scoring on grade level quadrupled. Yet more than 40% of these students still earned Bs or better in core subjects.

Failed Signals stresses that educators aren’t intentionally trying to mislead families, and we wholeheartedly agree. Assessing learning was extra challenging during remote schooling, and grades reflect more than just academic performance.

Yet based on a study from Gallup and Learning Heroes in fall 2023, most families report only modest concern about missed learning. Parents said they are less worried about their children having to make up for Covid-related learning loss (34%) than other factors like the impact of social media (71%), and their emotional well-being.

From our perspective, these findings raise the question of whether this false signal about student achievement is contributing to chronic absenteeism.

If students continue to get a grade of B on their assignments even though they don’t show up to school, it could be causing families and students to feel that missing a few days of school won’t affect learning. And, if this is the case, families may decide to allow students to take additional vacation days or other time off while school is in session, instead of maintaining a regular routine of showing up to school.

Before the pandemic, it was relatively rare that students were both not yet on grade level and chronically absent, the report says. Students who were falling behind in their classes and were attending regularly could engage with their teachers and take action to catch up. But during the pandemic years a large student population was both missing school and falling behind academically. When this is combined with receiving grades that don’t indicate the extent of their learning loss, most families believe their students were doing well at school.

This failed signal is an urgent call to help families and educators identify and help the students most in need of personalized systems of support, the researchers say. We agree.

The report offers simple, immediate recommendations that districts and families can take to understand the extent of these issues in their own system and their effect on individual students. These include:

For districts
1. Educate all families about the importance of attendance.
2. Identify students who need the most additional support.
3. Send clear signals to students who need extra support.

For families
1. Make sure your child attends school every day.
2. Go beyond grades to confirm your child’s progress.
3. Make the most of parent-teacher conferences.

An interactive website, Go Beyond Grades hosted by Learning Heroes and supported by seven large nonprofit groups, offers additional resources for families and teachers.

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