A recent study by Australian children’s education charity, The Smith Family, found a link between a student’s attendance and their school completion.
According to the data, three in four students (75%) with high attendance in Year 7 completed Year 12 compared to less than half (48%) of those with very low attendance, according to the study of more than 30,000 Australian school students.
The impact of truancy on students’ education is therefore a challenge that schools need to address.
However, new research out of the US might provide a solution for schools looking to boost their students’ attendance, as well as overall engagement in their schooling.
The study, undertaken by Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that mailing so-called “nudge” letters to parents when their students miss too many days of school reduces chronic absenteeism by 10% or more.
The researchers attended schools in Philadelphia where they randomly assigned about 28,000 students into four groups.
Two of the groups received one of two versions of a nudge letter: one that included a tally of how many days of school the student missed, and another that compared that tally to a class average.
A third group received a generic message that absences, excused or not, make a difference in how much a student learns; The fourth control group received no letter at all.
In the families that received the nudge letters, chronic absenteeism rates fell 10%. The researchers also found a spillover effect: Attendance improved for siblings of students targeted by the mailing.
“There are increasing treatment effects, with each additional mailing, so as the year goes on, the effects get bigger,” Todd Rogers, a public-policy professor at Harvard, told The Seattle Times.
However, Professor Rogers pointed out that this is not a new phenomenon and the Philadelphia experiment and its results have been duplicated elsewhere.
Last year, a test of the nudge letters at 10 school districts in California found that this intervention reduced chronic absenteeism by 15% in the elementary grades.
Nudge letters have also reduced chronic absenteeism by 11% in Chicago Public Schools, while in Washington state, a trial of nudge letters found a 62% boost in attendance at the pilot school, convincing them to expand the effort to every campus this school year.