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Do High Attendance Rates Produce High Grades?

Combined with homework completion and revision, attendance ratings often rank as one of the most important factors when determining a student’s academic success. But is there any truth in it? Is there a correlation between class attendance ratings and a student’s achieved grades?

Obviously if a child were to suffer long-term absences from classes then they will eventually lack access to teaching which will ultimately hinder their learning. But what about a few odd days or week spread throughout the course of a year? Does it have an impact in terms of a student’s long-term achievements?

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With attendance having been monitored in schools since forever, when the UK government passed their law in September 2013 - which allowed the Local Education Authorities to fine parents for a child’s unauthorised absence - it further enforced the feeling that a child’s success could be jeopardised if they were not in the classroom.

This notion has since been supported by a number of educational reports and findings. For example; in March 2016, the Department for Education published a report which explored the link between absence and student’s success in Key Stages 2 and 4.

The results did show that in general, the higher an absence rate, the lower the likelihood of a student achieving high academic success. More specifically, the report stated that at KS2; ‘pupils with no absences are 1.3 times more likely to achieve level 4 or above, and 3.1 times more likely to achieve level 5 or above than pupils that missed 10-15% of all sessions.’

At KS4, the findings were that; ‘pupils with no absence are 2.2 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent and 2.8 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent including English and mathematics than pupils missing 15-20% of Key Stage 4 lessons.’

The report also found that pupils with persistent absences were less likely to attain high grades at school, and also, were very unlikely to stay in education after the age of 16.

But how much is a student’s success dependent on their time sat in a classroom?

Of course up to a certain age the role of the teacher is essential in developing basic language, mathematics and science skills. But what about when the child reaches teen-hood? When revision starts to play a major role in a child’s achievements?

In the United States, some schools count attendance as part of a pupil’s grade. But why? Perhaps they participate in debates and seminar-style teachings which encourage a collaborative style of learning? And one which they find is best suited to their pupil’s way of learning? Maybe it’s an incentive to encourage the child to want to learn? But to what degree does a child’s mere presence in the classroom mean that they are engaged and absorbing what is being taught?

A 2010 meta-analysis did discover a positive correlation between attendance and grades, but researchers have since suggested that this could be because teachers can hint what the best material is to know for examinations and teacher-led assessments?

In the original article by Education Matters, their focus was on two papers which have recently been produced by researchers at La Trobe University. The papers examined the causes and effects of attendance rates at an urban Australian primary school between the years of 2005 and 2015.

Professor Noel Meyers and Lindy Baxter analysed student’s NAPLAN results in years 3 and 5, together with attendance and enrolment data. Their findings were weak, with the data discovering no correlation between a student's attendance rates and their NAPLAN literacy and numeracy scores.

Baxter commented that:

“There is no guarantee that a student will have excellent NAPLAN scores because they attend school every day, just as students with low attendance rates can produce unexpectedly high NAPLAN scores. A universal attendance and achievement relationship does not hold true. While that finding seems counterintuitive, we need only reflect on the number of factors required for students’ optimal learning.”

Baxter’s comments hold a lot of truth. After all, what is it that impacts a child’s learning? The teacher’s ability to tailor their teaching to a child’s individual needs? The student’s conscious involvement in the classroom? Their completion of homework? Time spent revising? Extra-curricular activities? Family life?

It is too weak to assume that a pupil’s success should be determined solely on their physical presence in the classroom. After all, this puts immense pressure on teachers to ensure that their class succeeds academically if they are simply attending classes.

In the UK especially, it would remove that level of independence which is instilled so early on in secondary school students that their academic success is based on their willing to work outside of the classroom.

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Attendance and academic success have a correlation, with higher absence rates leading to lower achievement. However, attendance alone doesn't guarantee success. Factors like teaching approach and student involvement also matter. Attendance shouldn't be the sole measure of a student's achievement.

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