Current research points to chronic absenteeism as a critical impediment to students’ academic achievement. It increases the likelihood that children will not be proficient readers by third grade, will fail classes in middle school, and will drop out of high school. Research also points to the power of the arts to improve school culture and climate, increase student engagement, and enhance a host of student capacities, including self-confidence, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
This body of research supports the notion that greater access to rich arts experiences may also lead to higher student attendance. A recent study conducted by Metis, one of the first large-scale studies of the relationship between school-day attendance and arts access, was designed to test this hypothesis.
Investigating the Relationship between Chronic Absenteeism and Arts in New York City Schools
Metis was contracted to conduct an initial, large-scale reconnaissance study to investigate the relationship between the richness of K-12 school arts offerings and levels of chronic absenteeism in NYC public schools. The study examined these relationships at different school levels (elementary, middle, and high school) and for three recent school years (2015-16 through 2017-18). Because of the New York City Department of Education annual Arts Count survey, measuring implementation of arts offerings in New York City is possible. This survey has been administered citywide for over a decade, and it resulted in a plethora of rich data about arts implementation across the NYC schools.
The Metis team used New York City’s existing arts indices to measure arts implementation at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Due to differences in available arts implementation data, as well as those related to meeting city programmatic expectations at various levels, customized indices were developed for each of the three school levels. Each index included arts implementation criteria such as arts courses offered, student participation, numbers of certified arts teachers, availability of arts spaces within the schools, and (for middle and high schools) numbers of arts sequences offered.
Metis used the standard definition of chronic absenteeism (i.e., missing 10% or more of scheduled days in a school year) in the analysis. To assess school-wide chronic absenteeism, Metis used the following standard bands:
- Low (less than 5% students chronically absent)
- Modest (5-9% students chronically absent)
- Significant (10-19% students chronically absent)
- High (20-29% students chronically absent)
- Extreme (30%+ students chronically absent)
Study Finds More Arts = Better Attendance
A set of multiple regression analyses was used to calculate the relationship between arts implementation and chronic absenteeism, taking school factors such as demographics and achievement into consideration. Among the key findings of this initial study were:
- The percent of schools implementing a high level of arts increased over the three study years.
- The correlations between arts implementation and school-day attendance were statistically significant and in the predicted direction at all grade levels and for all three study years. That is, more robust arts implementation was positively associated with higher student attendance.
- The connection between arts offerings and school-day attendance is most substantial at the elementary level.
Plans are under way to extend the Arts and Attendance analysis to additional cohorts within New York City.