Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Communicating Can Reduce Student Absenteeism

A postcard sent to students’ homes encouraging attendance at school decreased school absences by more than two percent, according to a newly released study conducted by the School District of Philadelphia and Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic.

The study sought to examine whether postcard “nudges” to guardians improved student attendance at school and whether different types of messages on those postcards were more effective. This randomized controlled trial found that a single postcard that encouraged guardians to improve their student’s attendance reduced absences by roughly 2.4 percentage points compared with a control group that did not receive a postcard.

However, the study found that there were no statistically significant differences in student absences between the two types of messages on the postcards—one encouraging guardians to improve their students’ attendance and the other which added specific information about the child’s attendance history. The effect of the postcard did not differ between students in grades K–8 and those in grades 9–12.

While 2.4 percentage points may not seem large, missing school for even part of a day matters because any time out of school reduces a student’s opportunity to learn. The importance of maximizing time in school is shown in school attendance and anti-truancy policies. School districts track not only full-day absences, but also partial absences and tardiness, and anti-truancy laws place a heavy emphasis on students skipping classes, not just full days. The fact that a $0.22 postcard could have a positive impact on attendance is noteworthy, according to the new report, and may warrant further study.

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