While instructional time is viewed as crucial to learning, little is known about the effectiveness of reducing absences relative to increasing the number of school days. Using administrative data from North Carolina public schools, this paper jointly estimates the effect of absences and length of the school calendar on test score performance. We exploit a state policy that provides variation in the number of school days prior to standardized testing and find substantial differences between these two effects. Extending the school calendar by ten days increases math and reading test scores by only 1.7% and 0.8% of a standard deviation, respectively. A similar reduction in absences would lead to gains of 5.5% in math and 2.9% in reading. We perform a number of robustness checks including utilizing flu data to instrument for absences, family-year fixed effects, distinguishing between excused and unexcused absences, and controlling for a contemporaneous measure of student disengagement. Our results are robust to these alternative specifications. In addition, our findings indicate considerable heterogeneity across student ability, suggesting that targeting absenteeism among low performing students could aid in narrowing current gaps in performance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Economics and Econometrics