Controlling the Issue of Chronic Absenteeism in Elementary Schools
Southern Methodist University
Bickelhaupt (2011) conducted an action research (AR) study to identify reasons why elementary aged students were chronically absent during the school year as well as cultivate solutions to solve this problematic issue within the near future. Throughout the study, various researchers sought to solve two pertinent questions, which included whether or not daily check-ins conducted by school counselors in addition to reinforcements given to the students led to increased attendance rates among the student body, and the researchers also aimed to discover reasons why some students were absent while others were not. The first research question that researchers sought to answer included whether or not the installment of intervention within a classroom led to increased absenteeism levels within the student body at a primary school. Researchers used a quantitative approach to manipulate a variable in order to measure the effects on another variable. In this situation, the two key variables included: the type of intervention and the attendance rate among the students. In other words, the independently variable within the study is the type of intervention. Researchers are able to manipulate the type of intervention in offer to test the effects or measure how the type of intervention resulted in school attendance among elementary school students. The researchers, or the PI, used qualitative a qualitative approach to study the second research question, which included the discovery of why certain students were absent while others were not. Through the culmination of qualitative data, the PI was able to better grasp reasons as to why students were absent, so that he or she could change the students course of action in the future. The researcher believed it was of importance to enforce a qualitative study in this situation versus a quantitative study because the PI was interested in gather ample amounts of information from a small group, or in the case of this study, six first grade students.
Chronic absenteeism has been an issue in schools across grade levels for years. Through various studies, researchers have discovered the negative impact chronic absenteeism has on individuals. Sheldon (2007, as cited in Bickelhaupt, 2011) explained the positive relationship between attendance and student achievement. Those students who attended school on a consistent basis reported higher achievement levels in their future careers. However, Sutphen (1996, as cited in Bickelhaupt, 2011) discovered that those students, who are often absent, struggled with various academic tasks, reported higher rates of unemployed after graduation, and potentially, became involved in the justice system. Loeber and Farrington (2000, as cited in Bickelhaupt, 2011) reported that students as young as age 12 have been associated with delinquent behaviors which correlated with levels of chronic absenteeism in school. Researchers have acknowledged the negative implications of absenteeism on individuals; therefore, there have been contributions made in regards to ways in which to solve this problem at an early age to prevent long term damage. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was passed several years ago. One component of the act identified a certain number of days in which students are required to attend school. If the school as a whole met this required number, the school met one benchmark of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status, which ensured funding for the following year. By passing this act, schools, as a whole, are more motivated in pursuing and encouraging students to attend classes because of the benefits they will receive in terms of funding.
For the AR study, Bickelhaupt (2011) sampled eight students from the first grade. Of the eight students, two were first grade girls, and six of the students were first grade boys. All eight students were enrolled in a primary school located in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. However, during the study, two participants moved from the school; therefore, due to attrition, the study concluded with only six participants. To gather students for the study, Bickelhaupt conducted a convenience sample, or the researcher selected those students for the sample who were available at a particular place during a particular time. Bickelhaupt chose to collect the sample of students from only one primary school located in one city. Therefore, a limitation of the study included the inability to generalize the findings due to a small sample size. Not only did the researcher limit the sample to one location, but also he chose to study only those individuals who had greater than 10 absences during the 2009-2010 school year with parental permission. A principal investigator (PI) or in the case of this particular AR study the school counselor, contacted the parents whom had children who qualified for the study. If the parents did not grant their child permission, the PI removed the student from the opportunity to be included within the sample.
The sample gathered from the elementary school was not reflective of the population of students in terms of ethnicity. Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that the particular elementary school’s population included: 0.4% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 4.4% Asian, 4.5% Multiracial, 15% Hispanic, 20% Black, and 54% Caucasian students. However, the PI sampled seven students of Caucasian decent and one student of Pakistani decent. The researcher explained that all families spoke English as their first language except for the one student who was from Pakistan, in which case his family spoke Urdu.
Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that both quantitative and qualitative research designs where used when studying the issue of chronic absenteeism in elementary schools. To address the first research question, Bickelhaupt used an experimental design in which case the researcher manipulated the type of intervention the student received in order to measure the impact it had on the dependent variable, which included the students’ attendance rates. Bickelhaupt provided an operational definition for the key variables in the study. The independent variable, or the variable which was manipulated, was defined as the type of intervention procedure used in the AR study. Bickelhaupt explained that each student received three different interventions throughout the week. First, the student received consisted reinforcement from the PI or the school counselor. If the study was present for a particular day, he or she was allowed to place a sticker on his or her calendar. The action of placing the sticker on the student’s calendar allowed for reinforcement of school attendance to take place. Those students who attended school all week received recognition for perfect attendance. To reinforce perfect attendance, the student was able to select a prize, which included various small trinkets such as rubber balls and key chains, from the school treasure chest. Not only were the students reinforced when they attended school, but the PI also conduced daily check-ins with each student in the sample. The school counselor ensured that each student was present for that particular day, and in addition, the PI discussed the student’s home and school morning routines with each child to gather a better understanding of that particular student’s morning in regards to attending school. Finally, each student attended a weekly small group. On Friday of every week, the six students attended a small group. During that period of time, the students would discuss four topics, which included: how many days that week the student was not absent, more efficient strategies for the student to implement in the mornings, various strategies which promoted a healthy lifestyle and a positive physical well-being, and the overall benefits of attending school.
Were the reinforcement strategies, daily check-in procedures and small group discussions beneficial in promoting high attendance rates among students who have displayed chronically absent student behavior in previous school years? Bickelhaupt (2011) collected data from the county student information system to learn if the student actually attended school. The researcher compared attendance records to the same 39-day period for the 2009-2010 or the previous school year.
Through this measurement, the PI answered the first research question. Intervention positively assisted the students in attending school. By using reinforcement strategies, daily check-in procedures and small group discussions, researchers exercised intervention procedures or intervention measurements, which reflected good predictive validity. Springer (2010) described predictive validity as the extent to which scores on a test are related to a variable that will be measured at some point in the future. For example, researchers have looked at the predictive validity of SAT scores. Hezlett et al., (2001, as cited in Springer, 2010) discussed that although studies vary, one larg0scale analysis suggested that the correlation between SAT scores and first-year college GPA ranges from .44 to .62, which is a moderately good predictive validity. This range predicts that those students who received high SAT test scores will also earn high GPA averages during their first year in college. Springer (2010) discussed that in recent years the predictive validity of the SAT has been questioned. However, in the AR study conducted by Bickelhaupt (2011), the intervention procedures used indicated good predictive validity. When the PI administered reinforcement through the usage of stickers when a student was present during school, checked-in with the student every morning and discussed his or her morning procedures for that particular day, and help small group discussion every Friday, the students at the end of a 39-day period reported attending school on a more consistent basis compared to the same 39-day period the previous year.
Are the intervention procedures used to positively students’ future attendance records reliable? Bickelhaupt (2011) tested the reliability of the intervention procedures or measurements through the usage of equivalent-forms. In other words, the same characteristics, the impact of attendance driven incentives and programs, were tested multiple times across a group of students; however, the PI administered an alternate form of the same measurement each time. For example, the PI checked-in with each of the six students every morning, and the PI discussed each child’s morning routine for that day. The PI did not use the same words in the discussion every morning; however, over time, the researcher received the same results. In addition, the PI administered a small group discussion on Fridays during which the counselor would discuss four topics of interest. The dialogue within the group was not the exact same every Friday; however, the PI continued to measure impact of the intervention methods, and the researchers received consistent positive results in attendance records over the 39-day period.
Bickelhaupt (2011) also discussed the qualitative approaches used to gather detailed information in order to discover why some students were absent while others were not. Researchers used an instrumental case study to gain insight into why some students were absent and others were not. In order to collect data, the PI conducted interviews and surveys with both the children and the parents. Jacobs and Kritsonis (2007, as cited in Bickelhaupt, 2011) stressed the importance of parental involvement in order to combat chronic absenteeism in students. Peek (2009, as cited in Bickelhaupt, 2011), explained that students in primary schools are dependent on their parents to get to class every day. The parents either drove their students to school or provided a way to get to the bus stop. Therefore, researchers could provide interventions for parents through an informational session in which school administrator provided the parents of the district’s attendance policy, and the school could hold workshops in which administration could discuss the importance of attendance to better educate the parents on why it is imperative that their children consistently attend school.
How valid and reliable were the qualitative measurements used to discover why some students were absent and others were not? Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that the PI developed a parent survey, which they administered at the end of the intervention. However, the PI admitted that there was no reliability or validity displayed through the survey questions; however, the counselor continued to use the survey. At the conclusion of the intervention, the PI called each set of parents to ask them questions, which regarded their child’s attendance record. In addition to the lack of validity in terms of parental surveys, the overall measurements used in terms of qualitative research have low social validity. Springer (2010) described social validity as the extent to which the results of a study are fitting to a community other than the specific community researched. However, in the AR study, researchers only studied one elementary school in one suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Not only did they study only one school, but also they only sampled eight individual, but also due to attrition, six individuals ended up participating. Therefore, the measurements used to discover reasons why some students were absent and others were not had low social validity.
Bickelhaupt (2011) immediately acknowledged attrition, or the loss of participants, within the AR study. Researchers initially sampled eight students from a primary school in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia; however, two students moved. Therefore, only six students completed the study.
The internal validity within the AR study could be altered incorrectly due to both experimenter and subject effects. The experimenter in the study, the PI or school counselor, was responsible for the implementation of reinforcements, the conduction of daily check-ins with students, leading the small group discussion on Friday as well as parent and student surveys, which were used to discover reasons as to why some students were absent and others were not. However, experimenter effects could negatively impact the study. The PI or school counselor could provide unwanted influence regardless of whether or not the PI is aware of the impact. Since the PI has direct conversation throughout many facets of the study, he or she could behave in a way that affects the way students and parents respond. The PI could ask the questions during the check-in portion, the discussion during Friday’s small group, the survey administered to a parent or the questions administered to the children all in a way that prompted or caused the student to respond in a specific manner.
Not only could experimenter effects negatively impact the results of the AR study, but subject effects could have also altered the results. Researchers studied first grade students at an elementary school. The students are young in age; therefore, they could have responded to the discussion during the daily check-in meetings or the topics of interest during the small group time in a way that they believed was how the PI or school counselor wanted them to answer. The students might feel the need to please their school counselor; therefore, subject effects could have altered the results from AR study, which in turn, means the study has low internal validity.
Bickelhaupt (2011) acknowledged that a limitation from the study included the lack of ability to generalize the results found. The researchers studied a small number of participants from one elementary school; however, the sample was not representative of every elementary school within the world. Bickelhaupt also explained that one of the students sampled spoke Urdu; therefore, there was a language barrier between that student as well as the student’s parents and the PI. When the PI administered the survey, an interpreter had to able present to interpret the conversation. Finally, the PI administered the parent survey through a telephone. However, not every family within the school district had access to a telephone. Therefore, surveys could be registered as incomplete and results could have been lost. Due to the lack of participants, the language barrier and the lack of access to a telephone, the AR study had low external validity.
Within AR study, Bickelhaupt (2011) included descriptive statistics in the form of percentile ranks in regards to the ethnicities of the studies. In the suburban primary school located in Atlanta, Georgia, the school’s population includes .4% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 4.4% Asian, 4.5% Multiracial, 15% Hispanic, 20% Black and 54% Caucasian students. Bickelhaupt explained that the sample consisted of eight students. Seven of the students were of Caucasian decent, and one of the students was of Pakistani descent. However, two students moved during the study, so at the conclusion of the study, the student population included: 83.3% Caucasians and 16.7% Multiracial students.
Not only did Bickelhaupt (2011) included percentile ranks to describe the demographics of the student population, but Bickelhaupt also discussed percentile ranks to describe the attendance records of the six students after the eight-week intervention period. Bickelhaupt explained that at the beginning of the study 82% of the students sampled were present at school; however, at the end of the study, 94% of the students attended school, which showed a 12% increase in attendance records for those students who participated in the AR study. Bickelhaupt explained that researchers compared the six students attendance records over a 39-day period to the same student’s attendance records from the prior school year over the same 39-day period, and statistics showed an 11% increase in student attendance. When researchers looked at individual student’s attendance, results showed a 16% increase in one student, 15% increase in two students, 10% increase in two students, and a 2% increase in one student. However, the study provided a shortcoming through the absence of information regarding the specific number of days the students were in school. Therefore, it was difficult to calculate the mean, median and mode in terms of academic records without having to guess the number of school days in which the students attended.
Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that although there were distance statistics, which displayed the positive impact of the intervention, there were also inferential statistics including a sampling error. There was a discrepancy between the sample and the population characteristics from which the sample was drawn. The researchers did not adequately sample the various ethnicities found within the school. The original sample also provided a discrepancy in terms of gender. The sample included six boys and two girls. Two students moved during the study, but Bickelhaupt failed to mention students of which gender moved. Although the sample is not representative of the population, Bickelhaupt did not explain why the sample was not representative. Springer (2010) explained that a sampling “error” refers to a difference that is inevitable when conducting a study or examining one subset of a population. It is different for a sampling bias, which is a result of an error on the part of the researcher. However, Bickelhaupt (2011) explained in the study that in order for a student to participate in the sample, he or she must have parental permission, would have had to have 10 or more unexcused absences within the previous school year, and must have demonstrated a similar pattern for the 2010-2011 school year. The PI requested permission for the students to participate through a phone call with the child’s parents. However, not every student’s parents have access to a working phone. The original sample of eight students might not have be representative of the population; however, the eight students might have been the only students who qualified and had their parents grant permission, which is an inevitable feat when dealing with this subset of the population.
Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that the statistical analysis explored the impact of the intervention programs on school attendance records for six first grade students over a 30-day period. When the researchers collected the data from the county student information center, and then proceeded to compare the information to the student’s individual attendance records from the previous year, the PI answered their first research question. The intervention procedures, which included reinforcement, daily check-ins with students and a discussion based small group once a week, led to an improvement in a student’s academic record. Overall, Bickelhaupt explained that the group only had three unexcused absences and seven excused absences while they were participating in the intervention methods. The researchers included excused absences for doctors’ visits, dentist appointments or illnesses if a note was provided.
The intervention procedures appeared to successfully raise the student’s attendance records. Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that the study also gave insight into why students were absent, and the results displayed the importance of cooperation from a parent. The PI administered parental surveys to better understand the student’s home environment as well as a student’s personal experience of school for which the child might not feel comfortable telling the teacher, but does feel comfortable sharing the information with his or her parent. Through the surveys, Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that survey results indicated that the majority of students missed school due to an illness or a difficult morning routine. Out of the six children, Bickelhaupt explained that the parents reported one child missed due to a non-school related event and two children missed school to avoid a certain class. In terms of a difficult morning routine, three parents reported that their child gets up without a problem in the morning, two children do fine with morning wakeup, but one child does a poor job in the morning. Every child and parent within the study owned an alarm clock. Five of the students’ parents report waking their own child up, and one parent indicated that the child uses his or her alarm clock to wake up. The parents of all six children reported that their individual child’s experience with school has been excellent thus far. Children informed their parents that they enjoyed recess, spending time with their friends, and learning from their teacher was the highlight of their school experience. The results showed that three parents indicated that their child has mentioned wanting to be at school even when the child is at home.
During discussion group on Friday, the PI discussed the importance of attending school, and the PI helped the students brainstorm ways to attend school. Through the discussion group, the students explained the need to stay healthy, and ways in which to accomplish this feat included drinking water, exercising, playing outside, running around, choosing the right foods to eat, stretching daily, drinking milk with calcium, going regularly to the doctor, brushing their teeth, and playing basketball.
Bickelhaupt (2011) asked the parents about their school experience. According to the students’ parents, four of the parents informed researchers that their experience with school was “good.” One parent informed the researchers that his or her experience was “fair,” and one parent explained that his or her experience was “great.” The parents comprised a list of their favorite things in terms of school. Three parents indicated a particular subject, two parents reported nothing at all, and one parent reported that it was difficult to watch his or her child have mean friends.
Bickelhaupt (2011) explained that the results of the study could be attributed to many different reasons. As mentioned before, experimenter effects as well as subject effects could cause the students to sway their answers. The researcher also acknowledged that the students loved prizes, so they could continue to show up for school simply for the reinforcement sticker.
In the future, Bickelhaupt (2011) suggested conducting the project with multiple grade levels. Therefore, the study could acknowledge trends across ages. The PI could ask the parents fewer questions, and better prepare for language barriers by working with the translators. Instead of daily check-ins, researchers could sporadically check-in to ensure that the student remained accountable within the classroom in terms of attendance, but it also ensured that the students were not attending class for simply a reward. The researcher encouraged the school as well as future researchers to continue weekly meetings and small group instruction time.
Bickelhaupt (2011) studied ways to improve chronic absenteeism in elementary school students. This is study contained practical implication for the world around us. Absenteeism is an issue among elementary schools, and the researchers were correct when mentioning that chronic absenteeism has the potential to lead to poverty as well as issues within the justice system. Although, in this study, those students who experienced lots of absences in the past began attending school, there was not clear evidenced which explained which factor caused the increase. There is a need for more research to be done in the future.
Bickelhaupt, D. L. (2011). HERE! But what about those who are not? Reinforcement among chronically absent elementary students, its effectiveness, and the way behind the absences. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 181), 54-61.
Springer, K. (2010). Educational research a contextual approach. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.