In a new report, researchers say they found a link between higher rates of student absenteeism and lower scores in reading and mathematics on a nationwide exam. It’s a finding that isn't likely to surprise many people, least of all educators in America’s public schools.
Indeed, a flurry of recent studies confirm what to many observers seems like little more than common sense: Students can’t learn if they’re not in class, and too many of them are missing seat time. The question is whether the growing chorus is getting loud enough for policymakers to take more significant action.
The newest addition to the research roundup comes from the national organization Attendance Works, and ties student absenteeism to lower performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for grades four and eight. Students who said they had missed at least three school days in the month prior to the 2013 exam scored lower on average in reading and math than their peers in states and districts with better self-reported attendance rates.
When considering these kinds of studies it’s important to remember that correlation is not causation. NAEP represents a snapshot of student performance on one assessment rather than a definitive statement of their abilities. Indeed the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, has repeatedly warned the results should not be used to draw conclusions about the merits of a particular educational approach. (So far that hasn’t stopped people from doing exactly that.)