Research now backs up what common sense long has dictated: Richmond County students who don’t go to school every day are more likely to fail grade-level state tests and much less likely to graduate within four years of entering high school.
An Augusta Chronicle analysis of Georgia Department of Education data shows Richmond County students who scored at the highest levels on the 2010 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests generally had higher rates of attendance than the state average, and were neck-and-neck with their high-scoring peers in Columbia County.
That suggests a conclusion backed up by national research: Attendance is even more important for students living in poverty than those in middle- and high-income families. About 75 percent of Richmond County students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with only about 30 percent of Columbia County students.
Research shows “chronic absence in kindergarten tends to predict much lower test scores in fifth grade only if the students are in poverty,” said Hedy Chang, the director of Attendance Works, a group that promotes awareness of the role attendance plays in academic success.
The Chronicle’s analysis of Georgia’s data also shows students who graduated had higher average attendance rates than those who did not – in Richmond County, Columbia County, the state and most of Georgia’s school districts.
“It is intuitive that higher absenteeism negatively impacts student achievement,” Georgia Superintendent John Barge said when the state Department of Education released its findings in September. “But, for the first time, we have concrete evidence of how much of an impact it has.”
The Chronicle explored the importance of student attendance rates to graduation rates during the past year.
Recently, the Education Department issued its report summarizing its research into the importance of attendance. The state’s review looked at the effect of attendance not just on graduation, but also on student achievement.
USING DATA FROM the Class of 2010, the state found that students who missed 11 to 14 days of school when they were in eighth grade, in 2005-06, had a 52.3 percent graduation rate, compared with 78.7 percent for their peers who did not miss a day in eighth grade.
The state also concluded, using 2010 CRCT data, that increasing student attendance by just 3 percent – five instructional days based on the traditional 180-day school calendar – could have led to more than 10,000 more pupils passing the CRCT reading exam, and more than 30,000 additional pupils passing the CRCT math test.
The Chronicle obtained the data the state used to draw its conclusions through an Open Records Act request.
The newspaper’s analysis of statewide student-level data shows that, when students scoring in each achievement level of CRCT exams are compared, similar patterns emerge across Richmond and Columbia counties and the state.
Richmond County pupils who scored at the highest levels of CRCT math in 2010 had slightly higher average attendance rates than their counterparts in Columbia County and Georgia overall. The same is generally true for CRCT reading, with the exception being that Columbia County’s attendance rate edged out Richmond County’s among students scoring at the “exceeds” level by 96.89 percent to 96.88 percent.
CHANG SAID THAT while attendance is important no matter what students’ economic situations are, it is crucial that children living in poverty consistently attend school.
Pupils living in middle-class homes tend to have advantages that children living in poverty might not have: parents who regularly read to them and reinforce what is taught in school, and a regular source of nutritious food.
“The (low-income) kids with high attendance – the ones whose families manage to get them to school every day – are the ones who have the highest scores,” Chang said.
Georgia’s findings conclude that any absence, excused or unexcused, hurts student achievement. The cumulative effect is noticeable after five missed days in a year.
“This research will help us as parents and educators to strategically improve attendance rates among Georgia’s students,” Barge said. “We can use this information to change the conversation, especially as it relates to excused vs. unexcused absences. The data is clear that excused and unexcused absences have the same negative impact.”