Absences, inclement weather and performance

A Harvard study found that missed school days due to inclement weather such as snow does not impact student learning. The study’s author, Goodman theorized that school administrators, when setting the academic calendar for the year will set aside bad weather days to for make-up elsewhere. Meaning, the projections for forecasted days to be missed are pre-baked into the calendar. Typically, these extra days are added at the end, prior to the summer break.

So, it looks like conventional wisdom was right after all, kids who are absent from unmade up, and therefore, missed school days, “those kids can fall behind,” Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman clarified.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics, citing policies put forth by the Council on School Health, advised its Pediatricians to ask their patients during routine examinations, the number of days missed from school. Why? Because, “chronic absenteeism puts students at risk for poor school performance and school dropout. As a result, they are at risk for unhealthy behaviors as adolescents and young adults as well as poor long-term health outcomes.”

Why the differences of outcome findings and research?

Just like the above, some school administrators find inconsistencies in data and research. For instance, in Australia (due to hurricanes, brush fires, and other extreme weather conditions) research was conducted to determine the impact of school absences. It was found that outcomes differ depending upon whether an absence is “excused” or “unexcused.”

They wrote, “unauthorised absences had a significantly stronger association with achievement than authorised absences, and this was seen consistently in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Even small amounts of unauthorised absence from school were associated with substantial falls in average NAPLAN test scores. It is likely that unauthorised absences reflect more than just time away from school, but also possibly behavioural and school engagement issues. We noted that distinct gaps in unauthorised absences between more and less advantaged students emerged from Year 1, and this may reflect differences in parental attitudes towards education.”

Huge impacts on nonperformance

Through the years, educators and educational policy-makers have grappled poor school attendance and its associated problems. In Chicago, researchers calculated that,”the number of days students were absent in eighth grade was eight times more predictive of freshman year course failure than eighth grade test scores,” as well as graduation rates, GPA and course failures. Findings were similarly replicated in Baltimore.

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So, where does that leave us?

Going back to the recommendations to Pediatricians, and paraphrasing for parents and educators, we should:

  • Dig deeper when receiving/making requests for student absences;
  • Chronic absenteeism may hide conditions related to homelessness, abuse, serious or terminal illness, and family instability;
  • Think twice before requesting/approving a student absence as what an adult perceives to be no big deal may result in so many missing academic days that their child may have a difficult time catching up to his/her peers;
  • Refrain from requesting back-dated or falsified illness ‘doctor’s notes‘ to justify an absence; and
  • Consider re-scheduling extended family holidays and trips to times consistent with the holidays and school vacations indicated on the academic calendar.

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