Panel: Novel Approaches to Understanding and Improving Student Attendance

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Harding - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Terri J. Sabol, Northwestern University
Discussants:  Stacy B. Ehrlich, NORC at University of Chicago and Lindsay C. Page, University of Pittsburgh

The Effects of Teacher Professional Development on Student Attendance in Preschool
Emily Hanno and Kathryn E. Gonzalez, Harvard University

The One-Year Effects of Parents’ Career Training and Employment on Children’s Chronic Absenteeism in Head Start
Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Will Schneider, Elise Chor and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Northwestern University

Reducing Student Absences at Scale By Targeting Parents’ Misbeliefs
Todd Rogers, Harvard University and Avi Feller, University of California, Berkeley

Absenteeism is a pervasive issue facing the PK-12 American public education system. Across the country, 14 percent of students are considered “chronically absent,” missing 10 percent or more of school days (Jacob & Lovett, 2017). This rate tends to differ systematically across communities and student subpopulations, signaling that differential rates of absenteeism may also be a source of educational inequity (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Across grades, absenteeism is negatively associated with important outcomes such as kindergarten readiness, on-grade reading levels, high school completion, and post-secondary enrollment (Ansari & Purtell, 2017; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012; Ehrlich et al., 2013). As such, policymakers and practitioners have funneled extensive resources towards improving attendance rates.

This panel presents practice-relevant research aimed at understanding and addressing student absenteeism from early childhood through secondary education.  One paper describes the patterns and consequences of absenteeism across that time span, and three papers highlight distinct school- and family-focused interventions that can improve attendance. Together the papers offer insight into the causes of absenteeism and highlight new approaches for addressing these underlying factors, which may be distilled and employed in future interventions.

The first paper explores longitudinal trends in absenteeism, finding that individuals’ absence rates are relatively stable across elementary and middle school. The authors also find that absenteeism in the first decade of education is adversely associated with a host of later outcomes. The findings suggest that early intervention may help interrupt persistent trends in absenteeism.

The second paper considers the role of teacher- and school-based approaches for improving student attendance in preschool contexts. The authors find that teacher participation in a professional development program leads to reduced student absenteeism and, exploring potential mechanisms, find that improvements in instructional quality are linked to attendance improvements.

The third paper presents evidence on the efficacy of a parent-focused workforce training intervention on chronic absenteeism in Head Start. This paper uses quasi-experimental methods to examine the impact of a two-generation comprehensive training program, aimed at improving parents’ human capital, on children’s program attendance. The authors find that parental participation leads to improved Head Start attendance. The authors will also discuss potential mechanisms underlying these impacts (e.g., changes in family routines, parenting, and parent psychological well-being).

The final paper shares findings from a highly scalable, large-scale randomized experiment of an information-based intervention aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism across K-12.  This paper finds that the intervention reduces chronic absenteeism by up to 10 percent, in part by correcting parents’ beliefs about their children’s absenteeism, and also leads to reduced absences among students in the same households as treated students.

Taken together, these papers highlight the potential of interventions targeting absenteeism, particularly in the early grades. Moreover, they underscore the importance of working in partnership with practitioners to design programs that effectively address some of the causes of absenteeism, such as student engagement and parental mindsets. Furthermore, these papers highlight the importance of involving multiple stakeholders - such as schools, teachers, and parents - to improve student attendance across the education spectrum.

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