Problem-based Research on absenteeism

Problem-based Research on Absenteeism Research Paper


School is essential for all growing children to acquire knowledge, learn and develop academic, social and life skills that will be useful throughout life. Parents take their children to school daily. When a student fails to attend school for various reasons, it is understandable. However, when this absenteeism becomes a habit, it adversely affects their learning and development since they miss key aspects taught in school. It becomes the responsibility of a concerned teacher to find factors that are contributing to this habit and implement possible interventions that can help this student to attend classes more often.

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Absenteeism is a major problem in 3E Elementary School where the students are from a school come from middle-to-high income families. One of the students with chronic absenteeism is in my classroom. Jenifer Lee is an eighth-grade student who comes from middle-income family and had been through a lot. She is a bright student with the potential to score high grades in the class. However, her attendance records are not pleasing at all; she is guaranteed to be absent at least once or twice every two weeks. She is about to enter high school where such a habit will not be taken lightly and will lead in failing classes. The action had to be taken to help her. The most suitable way to achieve was through action research that would demonstrate where the strategies we decide to implement are helpful or not. Despite the fact that each student has got different reasons we can find out “why” and then target the problem and then use this knowledge to help others in the school. The primary objective of this action research is to find strategies that would help students to attend school daily unless there is a genuine reason not to. The objective is to ensure that the students attend to miss at most once or twice in a month which is equivalent to 20 actual school days.

Literature review

In trying to deal with performance gap, decision-makers have focused on several factors but paid little attention to attendance gap. However, to a teacher, this issue is pertinent since they interact with the students on a daily basis. Moreover, if not looked into carefully these children end up developing chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is defined as “missing ten percent or more of the school year” (Chang & Romero, 2008; Musser, 2011; Gottfried, 2015). It is estimated that more than five million students miss approximately a month of school in the United States (Jordan & Chang, 2015). Research also indicates that this issue starts early due to various factors related to health, psychological issues, behavioral issues, family background, lack of motivation in school among others (Agaku, Olutola, Adisa, Obadan, & Vardavas, 2015; Jordan & Chang, 2015; Sugrue, Zuel, & LaLiberte, 2015; Miller & Johnson, 2016).

Common sense and research suggest that this chronic absenteeism is adversely affecting their performance in school. Regardless of their gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, these students lose out academically when they do not attend lessons (Chang & Romero, 2008). In addition, these students miss several hours of instructions as such they may require significant remediation when they return to school (Gottfried, 2015). Absenteeism also affects their behavior as they develop a sense of alienation from teachers, classmates and tend to have fewer frequencies of positive interactions and social engagement when they return to school. These negative academic and behavioral impacts could spill over to other students’ outcomes. Upon returning to school, the teacher is forced to slow the pace of instructions. It may negatively impact other students since they have to keep up with the slow pace in favor of those who were absent. It is further hypothesized that just like academic disruptions; disruptive behavior of absent students might negatively impact the learning process of other students since the teachers devote their time and resources to manage their classrooms rather that to instruct the students (Gottfried, 2015).

When educators accept this chronic absenteeism, they are setting up their students to fail in life. By allowing students to miss much of school without trying to help them is an indication that they accept the behavior of avoidance. Therefore, as educators, we need to find possible solutions to chronic absenteeism so that students can be able to attend school to learn content knowledge and techniques to cope with life. This implies that teacher’s involvement plays a pivotal role. They create a student-focused climate when attempting to increase attendance. Also, they provide academic support for those students who are underachievers. This support can as well increase the attendance. Jenifer is an underachiever but has the potential to be among the top achievers in my class. Although, many interventions have been applied before to help students such as Jenifer, it is highly recommended that these interventions specifically target individual students (Lauchlan, 2003).

These interventions should focus on motivating the student to thrive in school. Therefore, it is important to include incentives as part of the comprehensive mentoring program. Inexpensive rewards many greatly benefit in motivating the student (Chang & Romero, 2008; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Girmus (2012) conducted a study that focused on how to motivate students. In his study, a key demonstration is on how social interactions go a long way in helping students to complete their work. Motivation is in two components, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the inner drive to excel while extrinsic motivation is the drive to achieve external rewards such as financial success or social status. Regarding motivation in the classroom, a motivating classroom is characterized by motivational instructional practices. On the other hand, non-motivating classroom is characterized by instructional practices that do not promote motivation.

Motivation is not easy to teach students. Balfnaz & Byrnes (2012) and Chang & Romero (2008) recommend that despite the difficulty in implementation, teachers must intentionally plan and act consistently as they implement the intervention. Additionally, Studies have also focused on involving the parents and the community in helping these students (Peek, 2009). In most cases, this is recommended to fully understand the cause of chronic absenteeism and find possible solutions. It has extended to include strategies developed through collaboration between schools in several states. For instance, leaders in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Texas among others have sought to help reduce high rate of absenteeism through attendance data. However, in this study action research will involve the teachers and student. The parents work in third shift jobs, and they seldom attend functions in school.

The above review indicates the significance of attendance and its impact on performance. In trying to improve attendance in my classroom, motivation is the key to ensuring that my students attend school as required and that minimal cases of absenteeism are recorded annually. As this literature has provided more insight into the kind of problem I have witnessed in my classroom and offered possible ways to deal with it. Initially, my objective was what steps do I take that will have a positive impact on encouraging students with chronic absenteeism to attend school in my classroom? Since motivation is one of the factors that influence students to go to school, it would be prudent to refine the objective to capture this. Therefore I will be exploring the following question.

My wandering: what steps do I take that will have a positive impact on motivating students in my classroom with chronic absenteeism to attend school?

Methodology: Collecting Data

This study used a mixed method design (student attendance records, critical friend group and a reflective journal) for overall evaluation to triangulate data so as to increase validity of this research (Burns, 2000). Since the study is on chronic absenteeism it is important to keep track of student’s attendance. This will show whether the intervention actually worked or did not. At the same time it is important to review student’s progress based within a critical friend group. As we analyze student‘s progress with the students, I will conduct my own assessment on a weekly basis and record them in my reflective journal.

This study was carried out within two months; January and February 2014. The focus was on Jenifer Lee, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student. Jenifer was absent sixteen times with another sixteen days showing up tardy. She hardly socializes with the other twenty students in a school she has attended since kindergarten. Jenifer is the third born of four children; her older sister in junior high school, while the older brother is a sophomore and the last born is in seventh grade. Both parents work on third shift jobs. This implies that they go to work late at night until very early in the morning. As a result, Jenifer has to take care of the dog, preparing herself and the younger brother to go to school. On several occasions, Jenifer has hard, tough times staying awake in the class due to lack of enough sleep the previous night. Despite this challenge, Jenifer is a bright student with passion for music. I noted that she had begun to let her guard down since I began to work with her. She cited verbal fights with siblings, absence of the parents, running her household and more as the primary reasons for her absence.

To find a possible way forward, I had to consult my professional Learning community comprising of the Mr. Helgerson, school principal, Mrs. Muzzey, school special education specialist, Mr. Anderson social studies teacher, Mrs. McClure, language arts teacher, and Mr. Chang, technology specialist. The teachers highlighted how her absence has negatively influenced her performance in respective subjects. Jenifer needs Tier 2 intervention. Mr. Helgerson proposed that the intervention should include giving this student a reward. Some of the rewards he suggested include homework pass, extra free time, and privilege to have lunch with the teacher or anything else that will motivate Jenifer. Based on the above literature review, I had initially planned to use attendance records and reward system in this action research. However, other teachers thought that they would take part as well.

Therefore, each teacher would be allocated each day within a week to work with Jenifer to provide her with after school help. Teachers would, in turn, keep track of time and the assignment and homework done and report to me. After four weeks, we would introduce reward system. This will not interfere with the activity the teachers are engaged in. Jenifer would have to mark her daily attendance at the Learning Center. She would then have the opportunity to choose a reward each week. Initially, will be once in 5 consecutive days, after that we shall extend it to 10 days. If the system proved useful, she could be receiving a reward after once a month. A formal consent was obtained from all participants in accordance with guidelines from Institutional Review Board.

Procedures/Data Collection Process

The first month: January 3rd: hold an informal meeting with students. Explain to her the importance of school. Also brief her about the plan I have and that we shall be having a meeting at the end of each week to discuss how the week has been, the current strategy and how she feels about it.

January 6th– January 31st – implement the first intervention by providing the student with after school homework help. It was not mandatory but highly recommended by all of her teachers. They recorded days she attended, the time and the assignments completed. Mr. Anderson (Monday), Mrs. McClure (Tuesday) and Mr. Chang (Wednesday), then we met every Thursday.

The Second Month February 3rd– February 27th: teachers had also requested that she be involved in tracking her attendance. Therefore, starting this week, Jenifer began marking her “Attendance Calendar” that was hanging in the Learning Center. She will be for every five consecutive days that she successfully manages to attend school. The option to attend after school homework periods will continue.

The Third month: March 1st– March 9th: compile the data and analyze and prepare for presentation.

Methodology: Analyzing and Graphing Data Using Triangulation

The use of data triangulation has been very helpful in this study. Data from student attendance records and after class help attendance were critically reviewed through Critical Friend Group. To support this analysis, the teacher used his reflective journal analysis to evaluate whether the interventions were effective. The finding indicates that at the end of this program there was a marked improvement in attendance. Jenifer responded very well to the intervention we offered her which included extra after class help and the reward system. In two months the student missed school only twice due to health issues. This is demonstrated her increased willingness to attend more after class help programs and dedicating 45 minutes to two hours with the teachers.

Data from student’s record attendance were collated and presented using graphic representation. This presentation and student attendance to school and to after class help was reviewed in the Critical Friend Group. As we reviewed student’s attendance in the month of January it was evident that the student showed interest with the first intervention. The student was actually benefiting from this program. She was able to finish her school work and homework before going home. She was able to work on math, science, social science and ELA related activities. This is supported by wide common sense and research findings that extra help and mentoring programs have positive impact on attendance and achievement. When they feel successful they are motivated to attend school on regular basis. Since she had time to catch up with the rest of the class, she had the confidence to attend school the following day. Also, as she interacted with the teacher she got encouraged by the care she got gaining more confidence being around the teacher. This motivated her to attend classes the following day. The positive response to the first intervention gave the team a go ahead to implement the second strategy. Most importantly, they viewed that this program had positive impact on her attitude towards attending school. This, in turn, led to an improvement in her academic performance.

Rewards set conditions for the development of intrinsic interest (Flora & Flora, 1999; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001). This improvement through introduction of incentives can be also be linked to B. F. Skinner’s theory of behavior which proposes that a positive stimulus promotes a positive response and upon increasing this reward leads to permanent demonstration of the positive desired behavior. This implies that the little reward Jenifer received every week did promote the development of interest to attend school. She was glad that she was being recognized for being in school. She improved and only failed to attend school once in the month of February as compared to a minimum of 3 times in the months of September, October, November and December 2013. There is a wide view that these extrinsic rewards may undermine the intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001). Therefore, after identifying an improvement arising from being rewarded, it was extended so that the student could only get a reward once in two weeks or even in a month.

Implications for Practice, Dissemination of Results, and Contributions to the Field of Education

After carrying out this action research, I learned a lot. Chronic absenteeism is a problem that needs to be addressed from the school and community level. As such future, similar research should focus on incorporating the input of the family and community. This study revealed that motivation is a major factor that can positively or negatively influence their attendance. Some students need the assistance of the teachers especially considering that some of them are having hard times at home. Jenifer is stressed at home with no one to listen and help her out. The parents are busy at work. She loses interest in school. However, when I began to work with her, she began to let her guard down indicating that the teacher can play a fundamental role in helping them. It is not just about teaching but also listening and caring for them. When we introduced extra after class programs for her, Jenifer got time to interact with the teachers who helped her do her homework. She was able to grasp work and catch up with the rest of the class. There are key changes that I plan to implement following this action research

  • First is to recognize the needs to attend to the needs of each student
  • Engage with the parents and community on how to help such students. This may involve visiting their parents and taking time to talk to them
  • Engage with fellow educators and professional learning community to tackle the issues affecting students.

The findings from this action research are important to parents, teachers, and other key stakeholders. Therefore, I planned to disseminate the results in a manner that is relevant to all. Findings from the surveys, attendance calendar, and communication between the students have been presented. Reading through parents can understand the need for them to motivate their children. From the context of my colleagues, survey responses from the teachers who took part in the action inquiry have been highlighted. These teachers dedicated their time and effort to help the student, and in the long run, it had positive influence on her attendance. This strongly reaches out to educators.

The positive impact observed during this research has motivated me to conduct a similar action inquiry considering that several issues in my classroom still needs to be addressed for the benefit of the students. Not only is it useful for my students in my classroom but also to the entire school and other schools. These findings will be shared and implement in other schools to end the issue of chronic absenteeism.


Agaku, I. T., Olutola, B. G., Adisa, A. O., Obadan, E. M., & Vardavas, C. I. (2015). Association between unmet dental needs and school absenteeism because of illness or injury among U.S. school children and adolescents aged 6–17 years, 2011–2012. Prev Med , 72, 83-8.

Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). The importance of being in school: A report on absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Burns, R. B. (2000). Introduction to research methods (4th ed.). Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: Pearson Education.

Chang, H. N., & Romero, M. (2008). Present, Engaged and Accounted For The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again. Review of Educational Research , 71 (1), 1-27.

Dulark, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2007). The impact of afterschool school programs that promote personal and social skills. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

Flora, S. R., & Flora, D. B. (1999). Effects of extrinsic reinforcement for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students. The Psychological Record , 4, 3-14.

Girmus, R. L. (2012). How to Motivate Your Students. National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Conference (pp. 1-17). Austin, TX: ERIC.

Gottfried, M. A. (2015). Chronic Absenteeism in the Classroom Context: Effects on Achievement. Urban Education , 1-32.

Jordan, P., & Chang, H. (2015). Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting A Course for School success. New York, NY: Attendace Works.

Lauchlan, F. (2003). Responding to chronic non-attendance: A review of intervention Approaches. Educational Psychology in Practice , 19 (2), 133-46.

Malley, J. M. (2016). Addressing Absenteeism through a Positive Reinforcement Intervention. Counselor Educaton Capstone , 1-48.

Miller, L. C., & Johnson, A. (2016). Chronic Absenteeism in Virginia and the Challenged School Divsions: A Descriptive Analysis of Patterns and Correlates. Virginia: Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Musser, M. P. (2011). Taking Attendance Seriously How School Absences Undermine Student and School Performance in New York City. New York, NY: The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc.

Peek, S. D. (2009). Integrating Effective and Beneficial Interventions to Increase Student Student Attendance in an Elementary School Setting. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal , 16 (1), 39-56.

Sugrue, E. P., Zuel, T., & LaLiberte, T. (2015). Chronic School Absenteeism in the Elementary Grades: Contributing Factors, Interventions, and Outcomes: A Mixed-methods Evaluation of the Be@School Community case management Intervention. Saint PAul, MN: Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare.


Appendix 1: Extra after class Period Outcomes

January 2014
  Date and time Task done
Week one
Monday: 6th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on Social Studies

Worked on Math

Tuesday 7th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on Science
Thursday 9th (2.45-4.45) Worked on math

Worked on ELA

Worked on Science

Week 2
Wednesday 15th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on Social Studies
Thursday 16th, (2.45-4.30) Worked on math

Worked on Science

Worked on social studies

Friday Jenifer was feeling ill  
Week 3
Monday No school  
Wednesday 22nd, (2.45-3.30) Worked on science
Thursday 23rd, (2.45-3.45) Worked on math

Worked on Science

Week 4
Monday 27th, (2.45-3.45) Worked on Social Studies

Worked on science

Tuesday 28th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on ELA
Friday 31st, (2.45-3.30) Worked on science
February 2014
Week one Time and date Task done
Monday Too tired to come to school  
Tuesday 4th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on math
Thursday 6th (2.45-3.30) Worked on science
Week 2
Monday 10th, (2.45-3.45) Worked on science
Wednesday 12th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on science

Worked on social studies

Thursday 13th, (2.45-4.45) Worked on math

Worked on Science

Worked on social studies

Week 3
Monday 17th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on math
Tuesday 18th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on social studies
Wednesday 19th, (2.45-3.45) Worked on science

Worked on ELA

Week 4
Wednesday 26th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on ELA
Thursday 27th, (2.45-3.30) Worked on science

Worked on social studies


Appendix 2: Reflective Journal

6th January 2014

This week we introduced a program aimed at finding a solution to the problem of chronic absenteeism. It has come to my attention that not only is the issue of chronic absenteeism is a major problem in my classroom but also to the entire school. I will be implementing several interventions that I hope will stimulate the student to attend school regularly. I will introduce after class help in collaboration with other teachers. This will be followed by reward system. During this period the student will be able to mark his attendance record. This is useful in determining whether the number of days the student was absent have increased or reduced.

January 9th

Things went well this week, based on other teacher’s remarks and having worked with her during our usual once a week moment. It was able to learn some few things:

  • Students like having one-on-one help with homework and class work
  • This increase their confidence even when they attend classes since they are able to get things done on time
  • Sometimes it is annoying to not go home but always feels better about getting things done afterward
  • These students do not like doing school work and homework especially considering that they do not have time at home
  • Need to further evaluate on whether the student is benefiting from after class help

January 16th

  • I observed that Jenifer only attends to after class help when she feels that she needs the extra help.
  • This week she manages to attend after class help twice this week
  • All students in the groups are interacting and collaborating with one another in solving problems. This was not the case as one Jenifer would miss to attend and was not interacting with the rest of group members. This is a good indication of improvement.

January 23rd

  • I realized that through this program the student is less stressed.
  • She enjoys working with the teachers

January 30th

  • Although sometimes she is too tired to stay after, it really helps when she does. This is the primary time in which she did miss class work and all of her homework.
  • Jenifer says she likes having the option to stay after school when she needs the help.
  • After reviewing the activities of the past month with my professional learning community. It is clear that the intervention was working. however, we need to introduce another intervention to reinforce the success we have achieved so far

February 6th

  • The student has been attending school regular since we introduced after class help program and the reward system. Missed school Monday, February 3rd due to being too tired to come to school.
  • I still feel that the student has not understood the need for her to attend school regular. She easily excuses herself. As such she allows herself to be distracted by other activities such as staying with her pet all night. In the future, I will consider introducing interventions that will help the student to be able to organize themselves to avoid such excuses.

February 13th

  • It has become routine for the student to attend her after class help. Also her attendance has improved tremendously

February 20th

  • The student enjoys working with teachers, as well as being rewarded for attending school.
  • We have made huge step in motivating the student to attend school

February 27th

  • Enjoyed working with the teachers

This program had changed her attitude towards attending school. She will put more effort to make sure that she attends school regularly.

Appendix 3: Critical Friend Group Summary

The critical group included the teachers involved in the study and Mr. Helgerson.

Teachers were happy with the progress the student had made since agreeing to after class help. According to Mrs. McClure, Jenifer had shown some improvements in the class. She was now able to confidently participate in class activities since she was up to date with these activities. This was supported by Mr. Chang and Mrs. Muzzey. Teachers indicated that student was able to answer questions by raising her hand.

Key strengths identified:

  • Improvement in class attendance
  • Improvement in class participation
  • She was now interaction with her fellow students
  • Willing to attend school subsequent school days


  • Still missed school
  • Still showed signs of reluctance especially when doing homework

According to Mr. Helgerson this was a big milestone and it called for the need to implement the second intervention to try and motivate the student to attend school without failing.

Appendix 4: Number of days absent

Month No. of days absent Number of days tardy No. of school days overall
September 5 5 20
October 3 6 22
November 5 1 18
December 3 3 15
January 1 0 20
February 1 0 20
Total 18 16  

Appendix 5: Attendance Calendar

Date Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Jan 6-10 X X   X X
Jan 13-17 X X X X X
Jan 20-24 No school X X X X
Jan 27-31 X X X X X
Feb 3-7   X X X X
Feb 10-14 X X X X X
Feb 17-21 X X X X X
Feb 24-28 X X X X X

Appendix 6: Monthly Attendance

Problem-based Research on Absenteeism Research Paper