Chronic Absenteeism

Posted: Tue, 01/28/2014 - 9:18am Updated: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 2:24pm

Chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy are important predictors of school performance, including high school graduation. Average daily attendance rates often mask the number of students who are chronically absent – which equate to missing ten percent of the school year or approximately 18 school days for any reason. Recent research completed by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University indicate that students in Indiana's public school corporations who are chronically absent from school perform at lower levels on Indiana's student learning assessments. Further, students who are routinely absent are also more likely to drop out of high school prior to earning their high school diploma (Spradlin, Stephanie, Chen, Shi, Chen, Han, & Cierniak, 2012; Spradlin, Shi, Ciernack, Chen, & Han, 2012). Several factors appear to influence student attendance in schools across the state; however, socioeconomic status appears the most significant (Spradlin, et al., 2012).

During the 2013 legislative session, state lawmakers enacted new legislation that redefined chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy in Indiana. The legislation also introduced new requirements for all of the state's schools. Effective July 1, 2013, IC 20-19-3-12.2 requires all schools with a 'B-grade' or lower must develop a chronic absence reduction plan as a component of their school improvement plan. The plan must include an analysis of school-level attendance data as well as a description of the prevention and intervention activities that will be used to improve student attendance. The legislature directed the Indiana Department of Education to develop resources for school districts that assist them in deploying evidence-based interventions that have been shown to effectively reduce chronic absenteeism and truancy. One of the primary goals for this synthesis is thus to provide resources to educators that can be used to improve student attendance in accordance with Senate Enrolled Act 338-2013 and IC 20-19-3-12.2.

The importance of consistent school attendance

Research demonstrates that chronic absenteeism and truancy result in numerous negative consequences for students (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Chronic absenteeism and truancy negatively impact academic performance (Gottfried, 2009). Moreover, chronic absenteeism also impacts students' personal and social well-being. While students miss school for a variety of reasons, Balfanz and Byrne (2012) suggest that the reasons for student absenteeism can be grouped into three categories. First, students miss school because they cannot attend school due to illness, family responsibilities, housing instability, the need to work, or involvement with the juvenile justice system (p. 4). These students face significant barriers to attending school. Second, students are absent because they will not attend school to avoid bullying, unsafe conditions, harassment, or embarrassment. These students avoid school or refuse to attend to school because of the way that they perceive the school environment. Finally, students are absent because they simply do not attend school. These students choose not to attend school "because they, or their parents, do not see the value in being there, they have something else they would rather do, or nothing stops them from skipping school" (p. 5).

Given the consequences of chronic absenteeism and its prevalence in the nation's schools, researchers from education, counseling, and health fields have invested substantial energy identifying factors that predict student absenteeism as well as estimate the cost of missing school for students both short- and long-term. The research suggests that individual, family, and school characteristics can all influence student attendance. Existing research suggests that the effect of missing school may include course failure, disengagement from school, lower test scores, persistent patterns of chronic absenteeism or truancy in subsequent grades, as well as the increased risk of dropping out (Chang & Romero, 2008; Romero & Lee, 2007; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Additionally, students who are chronically absent or truant are more likely to develop serious mental health issues, engage in drug and alcohol use, and become violent or participate in criminal behaviors (Kearney, 2008).

The research base regarding the effectiveness of specific interventions for students is limited (Lehr, Hansen, Sinclair, & Christensen, 2003). This review revealed numerous descriptive accounts of individual programs as well as evidence of promising practices but very few of these studies represent the kind of rigorous evaluation or research that supports claims about the widespread efficacy of the interventions. In fact, one discussion of the research suggested that are "minimal differences in effects across program types and modalities, [with] no one program type of modality [standing] out as being more effective than any other" (Maynard, McCrea, Pigott, & Kelly, 2012, p. 7). This review reveals that research about interventions that have been shown to decrease the rate of chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy are far-reaching, encompassing approaches that focus on students, families, schools, and communities. What is clear from the literature is that a single strategy is unlikely to fully address student attendance issues. Research suggests a combination of prevention and intervention is most likely effective (Gandy & Schultz, 2007; Smink & Reimer, 2005). Effective strategies must include prevention and intervention activities at four levels, including: (1) the student; (2) parents and family; (3) school or community; and, (4) the courts (John W. Gardner Center, 2012).