Successful Truancy Intervention in an Urban High School

Marvul, J. N. (2012). If you build it, they will come: A successful truancy intervention program in a small high school. Urban Education, 47(1), 144-169.

Truancy is a significant problem in U. S. schools, with male students in urban schools most likely to miss school. Research has shown that truant behavior is a strong predictor of dropping out of high school. Nationwide, fewer than three quarters of students graduate from high school, and in urban high schools in low income neighborhoods the graduation rate averages less than 50%. Marvul (2012) tested a combination of interventions aimed at reducing truancy at a small, transitional high school in New York City. Forty students were randomly assigned to either the control group or the intervention group. The intervention consisted of three components, each of which had been shown in previous studies to reduce truancy: (1) daily phone calls to home before school to increase parental involvement, (2) participation in a moral issues class focusing on respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, care, citizenship, and fairness, and (3) participation in team sports. Students in the control group took physical education and computer courses during the intervention period. All students were administered the Student Engagement Survey as a pretest-posttest measure, which assessed (1) behavioral engagement, such as obeying rules, participating in school activities, and not being disruptive, (2) cognitive engagement, such as motivation and effort, and (3) emotional engagement, such as identification with school and feelings of belonging. Results showed significantly fewer absences as well as higher scores on all three Student Engagement Survey dimensions for the intervention group as compared with the control group. The author suggested that further research is needed to determine whether these effects are long lasting and whether they would generalize to a variety of school settings.

Making Connections

Academic achievement
Moral development
Social support

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast explains why a punitive approach to school truancy in Los Angeles seems to have backfired. [4 min 18 sec]