Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Understanding Elementary School Truancy

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 9:30 AM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Claessens, University of Chicago and Mimi Engel, Vanderbilt University
Chronic early absenteeism, often defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year in kindergarten through third grade, is a strong predictor of future academic outcomes including attendance and academic achievement (Chang  & Romero, 2008; Attendance Works, 2011). Further, children from families with low income are more likely to be chronically absent from school and, importantly, evidence indicates that the negative effects of chronic absenteeism are larger for students from low-income families (Balfanz & Byrnes 2012). Despite the importance of regular attendance in elementary school for concurrent and later school outcomes, we know little about the contextual factors that influence school attendance and absenteeism among elementary school children.

The proposed paper aims to address this gap in the literature. We analyze qualitative interviews data for a sample of children in elementary school who were chronically absent from school during the 2011-2012 school year. In total, 51 students and their parents or primary caregivers were interviewed during the 2012-2013 school year and 14 of these students were re-interviewed in the later summer and fall of 2013. This sample was drawn from a larger population of chronically absent students who were receiving services through the Check and Connect Monitoring and Mentoring Program in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The qualitative interviews covered a wide range of topics about home and school experiences, and the interviews typically took place in the child’s home.  Children were interviewed separately from their primary caregiver.  The sample is primarily African American and Hispanic, with students in first to eighth grades in the 2012-13 school year.

Drawing on these interviews along with school records from CPS, we address the following research questions: How do chronically absent students and their parents describe school attendance and school absences? What reasons do children and their families provide for missing school? And, do reasons for chronic absenteeism vary by child age (grade level) and other child or familial factors, such as employment, safety, and access to transportation?  We will examine how students and parents describe elementary school absenteeism, analyzing data to discover what common themes and patterns emerge.  We will compare this to quantitative data on actual school attendance, paying careful attention to any differences by child age and other contextual influences.

Drawing on developmental theory, we expect that the reasons for absenteeism reported by both students and parents will vary by child age. We anticipate that younger children in the sample will have less agency and responsibility for getting themselves to school each day, while older children will be more likely be in charge of whether and how they get to school.  In addition, we expect to find differences by home and school contexts, particularly in neighborhoods with high rates of crime and in families with erratic or non-standard work schedules. The results of this study will suggest potential areas for future research on chronic absenteeism among elementary school students.