I feel like I’ve posted on this before, but my searches have been fruitless. Anyway, the National Center for Children in Poverty released a report a while back on chronic absenteeism in elementary school, called “Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades.”
The report finds that children who miss more than 10% of days in kindergarten fare far worse than their peers, with the effect lasting through fifth grade for poor children. It shouldn’t be surprising that absenteeism affects school achievement, but what is suprising is that it does so for so long afterward.
The paper examines the possible causes of chronic absenteeism, including parental engagement, socioeconomic status, language barriers, health, and school quality. It also calls attention to the need for better measurement, since “address chronic absence starts with counting.” Schools have traditionally relied on overall attendance measures and targets such as the average percent of students that attended on a given day (“average daily attendance”). But this measure does nothing to measure the degree to which individual students are missing class and falling behind, and may even mask the issue.
Anyway, all this is to say that the report’s author, Hedy Chang, has launched a blog and website that offers helpful tools for policymakers and school administrators to begin addressing chronic absence. This is the kind of thing our researchers need to do more of: take an outstanding body of research and show others how to apply it. The website is www.chronicabsence.net.
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Rand Corporation evaluated the California pre-school system (pdf) to see how it could be made more efficient and effective at closing the gap in children’s school readiness at kindergarten. It suggests that the strategy depends very much on how you frame the goal:
- “If the goal is to raise student achievement in absolute terms for Latinos and African Americans, without reference to test scores of white students, then the largest absolute gain in test scores for Latinos and African Americans is associated with raising preschool participation and preschool quality for all groups of children—a universal approach. The estimated gain ranges from one-fifth to one-third of the size of the existing score gaps, depending on assumptions.
- “The universal approach would also increase test scores for white children. So, if the goal is to narrow the score gap between Latinos and whites or African Americans and whites, the largest relative gain in student achievement is associated with increases in preschool participation and quality for socioeconomically disadvantaged children, a larger proportion of whom are Latino or African American. With this targeted policy approach, the estimates suggest that the racial-ethnic achievement-score
“However, our analysis indicates that there would be almost no narrowing of absolute or relative achievement gaps from just raising preschool participation for all groups without any change in preschool quality. These results suggest that raising preschool quality is essential if preschool is to be an effective policy lever for addressing achievement gaps.”
That’s interesting. I’ve had a few discussions around CAP about that very choice. Are we trying to raise achievement to some objective threshold of “school readiness”, or are we trying to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers? I suppose one way to re-state that is (a) do we want all children to be adequately prepared or (b) do we want all children to have an equal shot at academic success? Depending on how you define your objective, two very different strategies suggest themselves, as the Rand paper illustrates – especially at the state or federal policy level.
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A new study in the journal Science found that a confidence-building exercise in the seventh grade lifted the grade point averages of low-performing black students through the end of eighth grade. The New York Times reports:
The researchers, led by Geoffrey L. Cohen, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado, had seventh graders in suburban Connecticut schools do the assignment three to five times through that school year. It asked them to choose from a list values that were most important to them — including athletic ability, sense of humor, creativity and being smart — and to write why those values were so important. The students were randomly assigned, within classes, to do the exercise or a control assignment that was not focused on their values.
In previous studies, researchers had found that such exercises reduced stress and the fear of failure in some students. By the end of eighth grade, among black students who were struggling, those who had expressed in writing their most important values had an average G.P.A. that was 0.4 points higher than those who had not. (emphasis mine)
The study found no impact on white students or black students that were already performing well.
The reduction of stress may be particularly crucial, since evidence increasingly points to the damaging effects of stress on the developing brain.
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