Students who reported more absences from school had poorer scores on a national test, according to a report released Tuesday.
The 4th- and 8th-graders took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), generally referred to as the nation’s report card, in reading and math in 2013. They were asked how many days of school they had missed the previous month before the test. Students who reported missing three or more days had lower average NAEP scores than students with fewer absences.
The results held true for students in every state, regardless of size, region or composition of the student population, according to “Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success,” released Tuesday by Attendance Works, a national nonprofit that focuses on increasing school attendance.
“Amid the sometimes fierce debate about improving our nation’s schools lies an indisputable truth: Students must attend school regularly to benefit from what is taught there,” the report states. “But each year, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million U.S. students miss nearly a month of school.”
In 4th grade, the absentee students scored an average of 12 points lower on the reading assessment than those with no absences – more than a full grade level on the NAEP achievement scale, the researchers found. In 8th grade, they scored 18 points lower on the math assessment.
Altogether, about one in five students in both grades reported missing three or more days of school the month before the test. California students did a little better than average, with 18 percent of 4th-graders and 19 percent of 8th-graders missing that many days.
“Amid the sometimes fierce debate about improving our nation’s schools lies an indisputable truth: Students must attend school regularly to benefit from what is taught there,” the Attendance Works report states.
Although poor attendance affected test scores from every socioeconomic group, low-income students and Native American students were the most likely to miss school. Asian students were the least likely, and African-American and Latino students were slightly more likely to miss school than white students.
“Improving attendance is an essential strategy for reducing achievement gaps,” the report states. “State and national data show that students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent than their peers, often because they face challenges to getting to school, such as a lack of access to health care, community violence, unreliable transportation and unstable housing.”
The NAEP study, which relies on self-reporting by students, is the only statewide data currently available on chronic absences, said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works.
Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts are supposed to include data on chronic absences in their Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs). But Chang said a review of a sample of 80 Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) by her group and two other nonprofits found that “very, very few districts are looking at data for chronic absences.”
California is one of about six states that doesn’t track attendance in its longitudinal database, which keeps data on individual students. Creating such a statewide database that districts could use would be better than relying on each district to collect the data, she said.
“Now every one of 1,000 districts has to figure out chronic absences,” she said. “It’s not very efficient. It would be a lot easier if the state had the data.”
The report comes while the governor is considering bills passed by the Legislature that would require districts, county offices of education, and the state to keep better track of which students are absent in an effort to combat chronic absenteeism. State funding for school districts is based on average daily attendance, which measures how many students attend each day but can mask individual students who are missing a lot of school. If students miss 10 percent of the days in a school year – typically 18 days – whether excused or not, they are considered chronically absent.
“This report is particularly relevant right now,” said Phyllis Jordan, co-author of the report.
The report also looked at attendance rates in major cities. Los Angeles’ scores matched California’s, with 18 percent of 4th-graders and 19 percent of 8th-graders missing three or more days. However, 22 percent of San Diego 4th-graders and 21 percent of the city’s 8th-graders reported missing that many days. Fresno 4th-graders matched the state’s average, but 24 percent of 8th-graders said they had missed three or more days.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.