A study revealed that New York City students with major attendance problems were able to turn things around academically if they started showing up to class. According to the study, students who started missing school 10% of the time saw their average grades fall to 67% in the 2011-12 school year from 72% in the 2009-10 school year.
But students can turn things around if they simply attend class. Researchers found that students who had been chronically absent but began to show up saw their average grades rise slightly, from 72% to 73% over the same time frame, writes Lisa Fleisher of The Wall Street Journal.
The study was conducted by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. Robert Balfanz, study co-author, said the study shows that "if we can actually get kids to go to school, we can reverse some of these academic outcomes."
According to Balfanz, for the first time, researchers were able to follow individual students over the years and track their absentee patterns. Previously, researchers had largely noted that students with absence issues had lower test scores than students who showed up.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration worked hard to fix the problem of chronic absenteeism. Three years ago the administration launched an effort to focus the attention of a variety of city agencies—including schools, police and homeless services—on students who missed at least 20 days of school in an academic year.
The New York City commissioned the study and Balfanz said he gave the city technical advice during the project. Though Mayor Bloomberg has given more than $1 billion to Johns Hopkins, Balfanz said the center he runs hadn't received any donations. His brother, Jim Balfanz, is the president of City Year, a nonprofit organization that worked with the city on the project by providing mentors to chronically absent children.
The new study found that poor students who attended schools in the city program were 15% less likely to be chronically absent than poor students at similar schools. Homeless students in the program were 31% less likely to be chronically absent than comparison students, according to the research.
The study also found that about 15% of city middle-school students and 26% of high school students missed more than 20 days of school last year. Teachers and researchers cite a variety of reasons. Homeless or poor students sometimes move frequently, making it difficult for parents to develop a routine or have time for them to attend school.
Some students miss schools due to health problems, with asthma as a major problem among city schoolchildren, according to principals. Sometimes parents take children out of school on extended family vacations, such as trips to home countries in Africa, Asia or the Caribbean.
By focusing on students' absentee data, teachers were able to spot trends. "Some kids just think it's OK to take every Wednesday off," said Dominique Broccoli, 28, a Spanish and math teacher at the High School of Computers and Technology in the Bronx. The school uses incentives such as digital dollars toward free prizes to encourage students.
"If the students realize that somebody cares about them, it's almost like you're trying to prove that you can do it," she said.