Balfanz: Let’s focus on Chronic Absenteeism

Robert Balfanz

Robert Balfanz

SOE research scientist Robert Balfanz co-authored this article for Education Week with Hedy Chang

As states and Congress rethink how to judge a successful school—whether by measuring graduation rates, using standardized-test scores, or judging teacher effectiveness—they should make sure to track another critical piece of information: the number of students missing 20 days or more of school each year.

Obviously, missing so much school is a problem for the absent students: By 3rd grade, the children who missed too much of kindergarten and 1st grade are falling behind in reading, research shows. By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes an early-warning sign that students will drop out of high school.

But these absences also affect other students, when teachers have to slow their instruction to accommodate students who missed lessons the first time they were taught. A study Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader of New York City 4th graders found that even students with good attendance rates had lower standardized-test scores than their peers when they went to schools where nearly 10 percent of students missed class every day. And in districts where state funding is based on attendance, chronic absence also costs schools money .

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