The Conversation and the Wisconsin State Journal each published an article about research on school absences by Professor Eric Grodsky, in collaboration with Elizabeth Vaade, Executive Director for Research & Innovation at the Madison Metropolitan School District, and Jaymes Pyne, Quantitative Research Associate at Stanford University (Sociology Ph.D. 2019.) Their study tracks how excused and unexcused absences are linked to children’s elementary school reading and math test scores in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Excused absences are those for which a parent or guardian contacts the school to explain why the child is not in class. They found that children with no unexcused absences, but 15 – 18 excused absences, have test scores about equal with their peers who have no absences. Children with unexcused absences were found to do much worse academically that peers with none, “For example, the average student in our study with no unexcused absences is at the 58th percentile of math test scores. The average student with one unexcused absence is at the 38th percentile of math test, and the average student with 18 unexcused absences is at the 17th percentile.”
The authors summarize, “We believe unexcused absence is a strong signal of the many challenges children and families face outside of school. Those challenges include economic and medical hardships and insecurity with food, transportation, family and housing.” The article describes how current attendance policies affect families and calls for educational policymakers to rethink how attendance policies can be designed.