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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

September 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Kids with poor attendance score lower on national tests

Students who don’t show up in class are likely to do worse in school than their peers. That stands to reason, but now there’s hard data to back this common-sense assertion.

Last week, researchers from Attendance Works in Maryland released a study correlating national test results with student absenteeism in each state. Their findings? Washington has slightly worse attendance rates than the national average, and the more days students miss, the lower their scores in reading and math.

National results.  A score of 208 in fourth-grade reading is considered "basic." At 238, students are rated "proficient." In math, the basic rate is 214, and proficient is 249. Courtesy: Attendance Works

National results. A score of 208 in fourth-grade reading is considered “basic.” At 238, students are rated “proficient.” In math, the basic rate is 214, and proficient is 249. Graph courtesy Attendance Works.

Say what you will about the bias of assessments like the NAEP (which stands for National Assessment of Educational Progress), at least they provide a yardstick against which to evaluate the possible effects of missing school.

In 2013, 22 percent of fourth graders in Washington and 21 percent of eighth graders reported missing at least three days of school the month before they took the NAEP. The national averages were 19 and 20 percent, respectively.

Said the researchers:

This lost instructional time exacerbates dropout rates and achievement gaps. It erodes the promise of early education and confounds efforts to master reading by the end of third grade.

When Education Lab looked into this issue last year, readers opined that missing school could not be equally damaging for all kids. In other words, skipping three weeks of sixth grade while on a family ski trip wouldn’t be as bad as missing class because of homelessness, transience, family illness or neglect.

Well, sure. But research from Attendance Works finds that while low-income students are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing school hold true for all socioeconomic groups. In their analysis  across every age, ethnic and socioeconomic group  students who missed more school that their peers scored lower on the NAEP.

So whose attendance rates are best? Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts and Texas.

And worst? Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

The good news is that attending school regularly can shrink skill gaps. A study of kindergarteners in 2010, among many cited in the Attendance Works report, showed that low-income students who came to school regularly gained 8 percent more literacy skills than higher-income classmates who attended at the same rate, narrowing the gap between rich and poor.

Comments | More in News | Topics: attendance, Attendance Works, NAEP

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