A new study from non-profit Attendance Works found that students who are absent do not perform as well in school as those who attend classes.
The report discovered that when absent for at least three days the month prior to taking a national standardized test, students did not perform as well as those students who came to school.
The report compared scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as the nation's report card, to student's reports on the number of days they were absent. Researchers for Attendance Works discovered that 10 points on the NAEP is equal to an entire year's worth of teaching. By that measure, those students who were absent for three days prior to an important exam missed out on two year's worth of learning.
"This study gives us a compelling snapshot of how poor attendance links to poor performance," Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, said in a prepared statement. "Cities and states now need to use their own data to paint a deeper, more complete picture of the magnitude and concentration of chronic absenteeism in their schools."
In past years, schools looked at daily attendance records in recording absenteeism rates instead of attendance trends across time for individual students. States now label students who miss 10% of the school year "chronically absent." Those students are more likely to be at an academic disadvantage by the third grade and to drop out of school by high school.
"Whether the absences are excused or unexcused, missing too much school can leave third-graders unable to read proficiently, sixth-graders failing classes and ninth-graders headed toward dropping out," Chang said. "Our best efforts to improve student achievement and fix failing schools won't work if the students aren't coming to class."
According to the report, the state with the worst rate of absenteeism is Montana, with most of that stemming from the Native American demographic. Nationwide, about 20% of students reported missing three days of class last month. In Montana, 26% of 4th graders and 29% of 8th graders reported the same; 44% of Native Americans reported three days of absences. The national average for Native American absences is 31%.
The study suggests schools keep track of chronic absenteeism rather than daily attendance records, which would offer faster identification of struggling schools as well as allowing schools to keep tabs on students who move to different districts.
"Once you know who's absent you start to see why they're absent and you start to come up with solutions for getting them back in school," said Phyllis Jordan, report author and Attendance Works communications lead.
According to the Department of Education, curbing chronic absenteeism is one of the most important things that can be done to promote student success, even when other factors such as poverty and disability are taken into account.