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Too late to learn: Student tardiness in the middle school

Dissertation
Author: Ronald James Farrar
Abstract:
  This study investigated the social, economic, emotional, medical and psychological reasons for student tardiness in a middle school setting. The National Education for Statistics indicates that student tardiness occurs at a rate of 3.3% to 9.5% each day for all students in kindergarten through grade twelve (Harrman, 2007). It is clear from literature that tardiness is a major problem. Not only do students lose valuable educational instruction when they arrive late, but they disrupt the educational environment and distract others who are in the class. Excessive student tardiness has a negative impact upon a student's future (Ried, 2000). Some of the implications are academic failure, high school drop-outs, emotional dependency, drug dependency, fighting and bullying (Chang & Romero, 2008). Student tardiness is a key factor in determining if a child will become at risk (Greenfield, 2002). Without intervention, tardy behaviors often result in serious emotional and social problems (Harrman, 2007). Within a qualitative design, the researcher interviewed chronically tardy students individually and in a focus group. Study findings evolved into functional suggestions for intervention strategies focused on students and parents which can be implemented by schools and local, state and national government agencies with the goal of reducing tardiness in the middle school.

TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER Page 1 INTRODUCTION ...............................................................................................1 Research on Tardiness ...................................................................................2 Conceptual Framework .................................................................................8 Statement of the problem ..............................................................................9 School Refusal Behavior .............................................................................12 Research Question .......................................................................................14 Purpose and Significance of the Study ........................................................15 Local Context ..............................................................................................16 Limitations of Study ....................................................................................17 Background and Role of the Researcher .....................................................18 Organization of the Study ............................................................................19 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ..................................................................................20 History and Laws on Tardiness, Absenteeism, and Truancy ......................20 Widespread Effects of Tardiness and Truancy on the Nation .....................24 Effects of Being Late to School ..................................................................27 Impact of Tardiness on Schools ..................................................................30 Interventions for Tardiness ..........................................................................32 Psychological Impact of Tardiness ..............................................................37 Theoretical Framework ...............................................................................42 Review of Literature Strands .......................................................................43 Summary and Implications of Literature Review………………………...44 3 METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................45

v Research Question .......................................................................................45 Qualitative Research Design .......................................................................52 Setting ..........................................................................................................52 Overall and Sample Populations .................................................................52 Access to Site ..............................................................................................54 Value of Specific Qualitative Methodology ................................................55 Instrumentation ............................................................................................56 Data Collection Procedures .........................................................................57 Data Analysis Procedures ............................................................................58 Validity of Interpretation .............................................................................59 Limitations ...................................................................................................61 Delimitations ...............................................................................................62 Ethical Considerations .................................................................................62 4 FINDINGS ........................................................................................................64 Data description ...........................................................................................64 Data analysis ................................................................................................88 5 DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS...............................92 Discussion of Findings ................................................................................92 Results .........................................................................................................97 Limitations of Findings .............................................................................104 Relationship of Findings to Previous Literature ........................................105 Implications for Future Practice in Local Context ....................................106 Implications for Future Research ..............................................................109 REFERENCE LIST APPENDICES

vi A IRB Forms .......................................................................................................119 B Individual Student Interview Questions ..........................................................127 C Focus Group Guided Interview Questions ......................................................129

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Chapter 1: Introduction The National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that there is concern that a significant number of U.S. public- school students are missing school, showing up late, and leaving school during school hours for a variety of social, emotional, and educational reasons (Greenfield, 2002). These student behaviors have a detrimental effect not only on our educational system but on our nation as well. Individuals who miss school for part of the day (tardiness) or all of the day (truancy) not only risk academic failure, but contribute to the growing number of students who adversely affect the status of our educational system and nation. The adverse effect not only impacts schools by hindering educational leaders from sustaining an effective educational program with continuity and without information gaps for students, but also places demands on society to resolve how they will assist students and families with social and emotional needs (Reid, 2000). Reid (2000) stated that all forms of nonattendance, including for students with habitual tardiness records, are forms of truancy. However, he categorized truants in different categories in order to assist professionals in helping to identify the type of truant

they are dealing with and the reasons for the students missing school. These categories can guide the professional in developing strategies to implement a treatment plan according to the type of truant. Some of the categories defined by Reid include the f ollowing: the traditional or typical truant who misses school for part of or the entire day, the psychological truant who has school phobia (school refusal), and the institutional truant who misses classes for educational reasons. Students who fall into th is last category are selective in choosing the lesson, day, or time they are absent.

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This study focused on tardiness. The topic has significance for principals and educators who are interested in understanding why some students are chronically late for sch ool and how educators can have a positive influence on the students they are responsible for and get them into class on time. Research on Tardiness Student tardiness is one of the key factors in identifying early on a child who may become at risk (Greenfield, 2002). Such at- risk students are making the choice to come to school late or not at all because of the situations and behaviors they have found themselves in, whether by choice or a result of circumstance. These students and their behaviors are negativ ely affecting our nation’s schools, and the students are at risk for dropping out of school. Often, they either bully or are bullied in school. They experience peer pressure to break rules, often come from unsupportive broken families, may become involved with gangs, and become the students who are committing the greatest amount of other criminal activity. As a result of these actions, according to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), society is forced to invest time, effort, and resources in combating b ehaviors that are negatively impacting our schools and, ultimately, the nation (U.S. Department of Education [DOE], 2009). Chang and Romero (2008) emphasized the negative effect of tardiness by stating that ―students have to be present and engaged in order to learn‖ (p. 2). Understanding the reasons that students are late for school, the behavior connected with this phenomenon, and the impact it has on students’ learning and development is important because of the negative repercussions that result from stu dents who are missing class time. Tardy students are likely to become high school dropouts; commit petty crimes; or become

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involved in criminal behavior, fighting, bullying, emotional dependency, drug dependency, depression, and other detrimental health-re lated effects (Chang & Romero, 2008). Student truancy, frequent student absenteeism, and tardiness continue to be a major problem facing our American educational system. In addressing the problem of truancy, the U.S. DOE Web site indicated what the Chicago Public Schools system are doing to combat tardiness and truancy in the schools (DOE, 2009). The article stated that the issue of student tardiness is one of the first signs of a student becoming a student who is at-risk. Educators are encouraged to examine their definitions of truancy and are challenged to define truancy more broadly, allowing educators to address the barrier students experience by missing all or some of the school day. The Chicago Public School System has categorized truant students as moderate or extreme. Moderate truants are students who have missed 11– 20 classes or full days each semester. The Chicago Public Schools began to define truancy broadly by focusing on more general issues of students who were missing class. Any absence from cl ass was viewed as a student who is experiencing a barrier to learning. An example in Chicago examines a case of a student who had problems at home that turned into a habit of missing one period per day. This absence led to more complications at home for th e student, and the student continued to arrive late and miss school. The child became an extreme offender under the Chicago public schools’ definition. This student had developed tardiness issues resulting from not having a positive school experience, thus becoming a student at- risk. The challenge presented in this article is to examine why students are missing class time and consider what barriers exist for these students before they become students at-risk.

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According to Haarman (2007), in the U.S., public- school students are recorded as being tardy at a rate of 3.3– 9.5% each day for all students in kindergarten through grade 12. It is equally common for both boys and girls to be tardy, and there are no socioeconomic differences noted in students who displa y this type of behavior. In addition, there are no relationships between intellectual ability and tardiness in students. Haarman noted that prolonged tardiness has a negative impact on a student’s academic achievement. Some of the major factors causing a s tudent to miss school are curriculum demands, poor teaching, unsatisfactory student-teacher relationships, peer group relationships, social demands, emotional difficulties, and nutrition (Reid, 2002). Attitudes and perceptions of the world as viewed throug h the truant child’s eyes are based on his or her experiences in this world, which in turn lead the truant to choose not to attend school (Dewey, 1997). An increasing number of students are faced with insurmountable academic and social-emotional demands th at further propagate a lack of interest in schooling (Reid, 2002). Tardiness, the action of a student who arrives at school or class late, is a major concern that school systems across the country are dealing with. According to Muir (2005), Principals and teachers have long thought that student tardiness was a serious problem. In one study from the 1990’s, 8- 12% of students were absent each day, and more than 40% of teachers found tardiness to be a significant problem. (p. 1)

Furthermore, McKenzie-Minifie (2007) quoted principal Jim Ball as saying, If you take five minutes late every day and multiply it by five days in a week, that’s 25 minutes of good, educational learning—good education— they are missing out on. All those minutes add up, you can’t replace them. (para. 4)

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In this same article, another principal was quoted as saying: It’s quite a prevalent problem. They [late students] come in behind the eight ball anyway. They need to be caught up either by a peer or caught up by the teacher. And that takes valuable teaching time away from others as well. (para. 10)

Pang (2007) discussed the procedures one school system implemented to reduce tardiness. An assistant principal actually visits a student’s home if the student does not come to school on time. The administrators focus not only on students who come to school late but also on parents who do not see anything wrong with their children coming to school late. The school system will not tolerate tardiness: ―If you’re not in school, you’re not learning‖ (p. 3). The school has a rule that if a student is tardy more than 10 times, he or she is banned from school activities, including the prom. The NCES reported that classroom disruptions are associated with lower student achievement for students who misbeh ave, cut class, and have tardiness issues. Teachers feel that these behaviors interfere with their teaching and school activities. The percentage of teachers who feel the greatest impact from these behaviors is higher in city schools than in suburban, rura l, or town schools (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2007). The DOE (2004) indicated that in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a successful program called the START program was implemented in 1998. The School Tardiness and Attendance Review Team (START) received funding through the state Executive Office of Public Safety with the goal of developing a program to examine and address the issue of truancy. The results of this program were a decrease in tardiness behavior by 40% and an overall improvem ent in the school climate in the building where these teams were established. When a student who was identified by the team did not make any

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improvements, the team made a referral to the Department of Social Services or filed a petition in court. According to the Administrative Assistant for the Superintendent of Schools in Cambridge, the schools no longer have this program (personal communication, September 17, 2009). In a 2007 study on indicators of school crime and safety conducted by the NCES, teachers were asked whether student misbehavior and student tardiness and class cutting interfered with their teaching. The report indicated that 31% of the teachers agreed or strongly agreed that student tardiness interfered with their teaching. The statistics in this study were consistent across experience levels, with 34.2% of teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience commenting that student tardiness interfered with their teaching, and 29.7% of teachers with 20 or more years of teaching experience agreeing th at student tardiness interfered with their teaching. The study showed that 36.9% of teachers who taught in the city indicated that students who were tardy interfered with their teaching, compared with rural teachers, 28.4% of whom said that student tardine ss interfered with their teaching. Among suburban teachers, 28.8% noted the same. Fewer teachers in private schools indicated it was a problem than those in public schools. Only 16.9% of private-school teachers said that tardiness interfered with their tea ching while 33.4% of public- school teachers commented that student tardiness interfered with their teaching. The greatest variance was among teachers in elementary and secondary schools. The study indicated that 26.5% of elementary teachers said that stude nt tardiness interfered with teaching while 43.8% of secondary teachers said that it interfered with teaching. In this study, elementary school was considered to include grade six and lower, and secondary schools included grades seven and above.

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Sprick and Daniels (2007) commented that ―One of the most frustrating problems in today’s classrooms is tardiness‖ (p. 27). According to these authors, there is a negative impact that students experience when they are tardy. Tardiness not only impacts the student wh o is tardy, but also has an impact on the school environment, teachers, other students, and the school as a whole. Instructional time and momentum are negatively affected by students who are late, and the students who are late to class can become involved in delinquent behavior in unsupervised areas of the school. In this situation, there is opportunity for fighting, bullying, vandalism, and mischief. Such behaviors can carry over into the class and further affect the learning environment. According to Pete r Davis, a principal in California, ―tardiness suggests school is not important‖ (Sprick & Daniels, 2007, p. 21). Every instructional minute that a student misses due to tardiness has an impact on his or her learning. Coming to school or class late is clos ely related to other behaviors associated with school refusal behavior. Because these behaviors are so closely linked, an in- depth analysis of this phenomenon is needed. This study sought to discover the reasons that students are late for school and to dis cover steps educators can take in an effort to deter this behavior. Haarman (2007) linked the same causes for children who are frequently tardy with all other aspects of school refusal behavior. The same characteristics identified for tardy students are al so identified for students who are frequently absent and truant. All of these cases are linked with an attempt by the student to avoid real situations as the child attempts to adjust to difficult situations. Even though there are varying degrees of tardiness, absenteeism, and school avoidance behaviors, the common term for these

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behaviors falls under the umbrella of school refusal behavior . Substantial tardiness is a sign that there is a major problem occurring with the child at the moment or in the past. Conceptual Framework One of the major concepts that guided this study and provided insight into methods schools can take to curb student tardiness was taken from Nel Noddings’ work on the ethics of care. Noddings, a modern educational philosopher, has writt en extensively on the ethics of care in education. The ethics of a care educational approach according to Noddings places emphasis on the critically important role of human interactions between a carer in the school and one being cared for. Ethics of care has as its goal to cause individuals to make a choice to treat others in a way that fosters an ongoing caring relationship that builds confidence and trust between individuals, resulting in a meaningful foundation for the student to experience growth and p rogress. Once this meaningful relationship has been established, the carers will better understand and be better equipped to support, assist, and guide the individuals they are educating. This philosophy, according to Noddings, when implemented properly wi ll have a positive impact on all of the students being served. She further made the claim that, when adults make a determined focus on a caring relationship, it will naturally meet the needs of the whole child (Noddings, 2005). The philosophical principles the researcher will use for this case study are based on Noddings’ (1999, 2002, 2003, 2005a, 2005b, 2007) ethic of care approach to education. This theory has implications for the relationships between individuals who

allow students to develop their own c apacity to learn in the school setting. A caring relationship, according to Noddings (2007), will provide students with the care and

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support they need in order to feel valued. Noddings’ approach further assisted the researcher in understanding ―the interac tions of the encounters between human beings namely of a carer, and a recipient of care‖ (Johnson & Reed, 2008, p. 222). Additionally, a better understanding of the individuals being studied as it relates to student tardiness

and the interventions principals can use to deter it were examined. Statement of the Problem The DOE and the U.S. Department of Justice have made a major commitment to finding ways to prevent tardiness in our nation’s schools (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, n.d.) . Every day, schools record children with unexcused absences in student- data management software programs. These unexcused absences become part of the students’ permanent records. Studies show that being habitually late, absent , or truant has a direct correlation to a drop in academic performance, perceptions of disassociation, emotional insecurity, low self- esteem, and problems establishing positive relationships. A natural result of these feelings produces a situation in which students have negative attitudes towards their parents, schoolwork, and individuals within the school (Reid, 1999). This progression of behavior leads to delinquent behavior and, if not addressed, often leads to court involvement. The DOE (as cited in Cap ps, 2003) has indicated that student truancy is ―the most powerful predictor of juvenile delinquent behavior‖ (p. 34). In fact, the DOE has indicated that ―truant students are more likely than their counterparts to engage in substance use and both delinquent and criminal activity‖ (DOE, 2009). The U.S. DOE links student tardiness, truancy, and student absence together as a problem that school districts need to find meaningful solutions to. School districts are

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encouraged to set up a team within each school to review student tardiness and attendance records, with the goal of intervening early with students who have a number of unexcused tardies and absences (DOE, 2009). Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, David P. Driscoll, commented that ―Student s who participate in a breakfast program have been shown to have significant improvements in academic performance, reduced absence and tardiness and increased attention spans in the classroom‖ (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1999, p. 8). Driscoll m ade the point that student tardiness has a negative effect upon the start of the school day. In an effort to curb student tardiness, Driscoll encouraged school districts to begin a school breakfast program. One of the benefits of a school breakfast program, according to Driscoll, is a decrease in student tardiness. Tardiness has negative repercussions not only for the students who arrive late, but also for students who come to school on time. Sprick and Daniels (2007) commented that students who arrive to c lass late have a difficult time adjusting to the momentum that has been established during the first few moments of class. This negative repercussion affects both teachers who spent time planning a lesson and students who arrived on time. The result of a s tudent coming to class late is a loss of the momentum that was built from the start of class. Further, when students arrive late, they need other students or the teacher to help them catch up, so other students or the teacher needs to stop and explain what was done, taking learning time away from the others. Pang (2007) reported that students who are tardy miss valuable instructional time from their teacher, simply because when a student is not in class, they are not learning. As McKenzie-Minifie (2007) noted, students

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who arrive at school late—even 5 minutes late— lose valuable instructional time. If they are late five times in a month, they will miss 25 minutes of instructional time. A principal’s role in relation to habitual truants and tardiness is often viewed as one of enforcing the handbook policies, resulting in consequences that, more often than not, have a further negative impact on a child’s school experience and do little to reduce tardiness and truancy. Methods used by administration to ensure con sequences for offenders range from verbal warnings to working with outside agencies in order to deter future infractions. Even with measures in place to alter behavior, little or no improvement in attendance may be observed. Thus, truancy, tardiness, and a bsenteeism continue to be a major problem nationwide (Reeves, 2008). The NCES indicated in that principals considered tardiness, absenteeism, and class cutting to be a major concern within their schools. Principals viewed tardiness, absenteeism, and class cutting as still being moderate problems that they were dealing with and were looking for solutions to curb this behavior because they are associated with violence and drugs in the schools (NCES, 1998). Haarman (2007) cited a number of reasons for student tardiness problems and defined a number of reasons students arrive late to school. Some have separation anxiety from parents or family. They fear losing a parent to things such as illness or divorce while they are away at school or fear that something bad might happen to their parents if they are not home with them. Some students are jealous of younger siblings who are at home. Thus, they are fearful that they will miss some affection from their parents. In addition, parents of tardy students often are part of the problem and not the solution for getting their child to school on time. Some students have parents with limitations. These

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parental limitations may be cognitive, emotional, or just a lack of parenting skills. Students who have a parent with a panic disorder or agoraphobia are more likely to display similar disorders, leading to school avoidance for part or all of the school day. Other factors leading to students arriving late to school are anxiety, depression, family conflict, and overdependence. Ma ny students, according to Haarman, are tardy because of emotional distress. The researcher, a middle- school principal, focused this study on tardy students at the middle- school level. By seeking better understanding of the lives of students who participate d in this study and through a review of related literature on the topic, this study discovered steps educators can take to support students and families in need. According to Tirozzi (2006), middle-school students have a strong desire to belong to a group. They display immature behaviors because their social skills lag behind their mental and physical maturity and are in search of self. They overreact to ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection and are socially vulnerable. Emotionally, middle-school students have wide mood swings. They need to release energy and desire independence. They are concerned about peer acceptance and are self- conscious, thinking that all experiences are unique to them alone. They are transitioning from the concrete to abstract though t and are very curious, and they often will challenge authority. School Refusal Behavior Current educational researchers, Haarman (2007) and Wimmer (2008) have categorized all aspects of missing school under one broad term called school refusal behavior. Wimmer (2008) stated that ―school refusal is an umbrella term that refers to all attempts to miss school‖ (p. 10). She expanded for the reader the notion that any absence

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from school for any reason falls under the category of school refusal behavior. George

Haarman (2007) offered a different view. He stated that school refusal and truancy have many common elements, but the intent of the truant is different from the intent of the school refuser. School refusal behavior is evidenced in students who are absent from school for the entire day as well as students who are present for the start of school but then leave during the school day. Some students attend school late after an incident with parents. These negative interactions with parents can often become habi tual for families, resulting in the student accumulating additional tardy days throughout the school year. The danger with these types of interactions with parents is that students become habitually tardy throughout their childhood (Haarman, 2007). Moreove r, Capps (2003) stated that it is not uncommon for students entering the middle grades to have accumulated 189 days of questionable absences. Such students begin accumulating absences from the time they enter elementary school, and these questionable absen ce as defined by school handbooks continue through their elementary and middle- school years. Reid (2000), addressing the negative impact of students who miss school for a part of or a whole day, developed a manual to assist districts in creating policies t o combat frequent absenteeism. It includes policies surrounding registration procedures for the student who comes in late (tardiness) or has authorized or unauthorized absence. Dr. Paul Haughey, director of pupil personnel for the Uxbridge Public School System in Massachusetts, defined truancy as applying to any student who misses school—including missing part of the school day— without the absence being a direct result of medical or legal reasons (personal communication, August 22, 2008).

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Questionable absen ces and tardiness issues have a direct impact on schools and serve as early warning signs to educators that there is a problem in the child’s life (Wimmer, 2008). The definition of the word tardiness and school refusal behavior share many of the same chara cteristics. Tardiness may result in a student losing credit, having a negative effect on his or her grade point average, thereby negatively affecting future options for the student beyond high school. School refusal is a psychological term used to describe

and explain why a student arrives late, does not attend school, skips periods, or leaves school early without permission. Student tardiness and absenteeism have a very negative impact on the American educational system. In an effort to combat this effect , federal government agencies like the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have designed programs aimed at supporting educational leaders in response to the tardiness issue (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996). Because tardiness and the neg ative implications resulting from this behavior can have such a major impact on the school system, it is important for educators to consider what actions they need to take to assure that students attend school and to continue to examine why some students b ecome habitually tardy. As mentioned earlier, tardiness, frequent absences, and truancy behaviors are strong predictors of students becoming at risk, according to the NCES (2002). These at- risk students, according to the reports, become involved in delinquent behaviors that have a detrimental effect on not only the student themselves, but the educational system and society as well. Research Questions 1. How do middle school students explain frequent tardy behavior?

Full document contains 142 pages
Abstract:   This study investigated the social, economic, emotional, medical and psychological reasons for student tardiness in a middle school setting. The National Education for Statistics indicates that student tardiness occurs at a rate of 3.3% to 9.5% each day for all students in kindergarten through grade twelve (Harrman, 2007). It is clear from literature that tardiness is a major problem. Not only do students lose valuable educational instruction when they arrive late, but they disrupt the educational environment and distract others who are in the class. Excessive student tardiness has a negative impact upon a student's future (Ried, 2000). Some of the implications are academic failure, high school drop-outs, emotional dependency, drug dependency, fighting and bullying (Chang & Romero, 2008). Student tardiness is a key factor in determining if a child will become at risk (Greenfield, 2002). Without intervention, tardy behaviors often result in serious emotional and social problems (Harrman, 2007). Within a qualitative design, the researcher interviewed chronically tardy students individually and in a focus group. Study findings evolved into functional suggestions for intervention strategies focused on students and parents which can be implemented by schools and local, state and national government agencies with the goal of reducing tardiness in the middle school.