Earlier this year the REL West released a memo intended to answer the question: What does the research say about the connection between teacher attendance and student achievement? The memo reviews the research on the relationship between teacher attendance and student achievement. The articles reviewed range from 2005 to 2014. One study of teacher absence among the 40 largest metropolitan school districts found:
- On average, public school teachers were in the classroom 94 percent of the school year, missing nearly 11 days out of a 186-day school year (the average school year length). Teachers used slightly less than all of the short-term leave offered by the district, an average of 13 days in the 40 districts.
- 16 percent of all teachers were classified as chronically absent teachers because they missed 18 days or more in the school year, accounting for almost a third of all absences.
- In spite of previous research to the contrary, this study did not find a relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of the children in the school building.
- Districts with formal policies in place to discourage teacher absenteeism did not appear to have better attendance rates than those without such policies, suggesting that the most common policies are not particularly effective.
Across most of the articles cited in the REL memo there was a finding of an impact on student achievement due to teacher absences. Given that it is likely that when teachers are absent they are replaced by less qualified teachers it makes sense that absence would result in a decrease in achievement.
Last week the Office Civil Rights released data on teacher chronic absenteeism and found:
- Most teachers are rarely absent. However, 27% of teachers are absent more than 10 school days per year for reasons unrelated to school activities:
- About 6.5 million students attend schools where more than 50% of teachers were absent more than 10 days per year
Thus, measuring chronic absence among the teaching ranks is a vital indicator of overall system health. First, teacher absence is likely a leading indicator for student achievement (as spelled out by the research in the REL memo)(opportunity to learn). It is also likely that chronic absence is a leading indicator for teacher retention. Chronic absence could be measured by tracking days absent and comparing to a benchmark (in previous research I found that teacher absence increases in March and April). It is highly recommended that schools or districts measure chronic absence (the proportion of teachers missing over a certain number of days annually), not absence rate among teachers which can mask the impact of absence.
Second, measuring leading indicators for absence is also vital. In an earlier blog post I encouraged schools and districts to measure employee happiness. Several survey questions identified in that blog post might be effective leading indicators of chronic absence (these would have to be tested for a relationship).
- I am happy with my current job. Scale: 5 point (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree) Source: BI Worldwide
- My job allows me to balance priorities at work and in my personal life. Scale: 5 point (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree) Source: BI Worldwide
- I am burned out from my job. Scale: 5 point (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree) Source: BI Worldwide
- I have too much work at my job to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Scale: 5 point (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree) Source: BI Worldwide
- I feel an obligation to work as hard as I can for my organization Scale: 5 point (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree) Source: BI Worldwide
- During the past month, how often did you feel happy? Scale: (1-6; never to every day) Source: Keyes
- Most days I feel a sense of accomplishment from what I do Scale: (1-5; strongly agree-strongly disagree) Source: Hupert and So
Given the importance of having quality teachers working with students, it makes sense to monitor chronic absence as a leading indicator of student achievement and also try to measure leading indicators of chronic absence among teachers (e.g. burnout).