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A Randomized Experiment Using Absenteeism Information to "Nudge" Attendance

NCJ Number
Todd Rogers; Teresa Duncan; Tonya Wolford; John Ternovski; Shruthi Subramanyam; Adrienne Reitano
Date Published
26 pages

This report discusses a study that analyzed the School District of Philadelphia’s effort to increase guardians’ awareness of absenteeism and boost graduation rates; it describes the study, presents findings, and discusses the implications and limitations of the study.


This document reports on a randomized controlled trial to test the principles of “nudge” theory as applied by the School District of Philadelphia in their plan to boost graduation rates by reducing absenteeism. The report discusses the problem being addressed and the study’s findings and limitations; it suggests that one way of reducing absenteeism is raising guardians’ awareness of the issue, with the hope that that awareness will lead to the guardians’ taking a more active role in improving their students’ attendance and academic performance. For the study, the school district partnered with Regional Educational Library (REL) Mid-Atlantic. In October 2014, postcards with different messages that “nudged” or encouraged guardians to improve their students’ attendance were sent to homes of students in first through twelfth grade, to see the impact. A control group received no mailings from the district. The study found that a single postcard encouraging guardians to improve their students’ attendance had the impact of reducing absences by about 2.4 percent. The two appendices include treatment material examples and a breakdown of research data and methodology.