The Short- and Long-Run Impacts of Secondary School Absences

56 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2019

See all articles by Jing Liu

Jing Liu

Brown University

Monica Lee

Stanford University

Seth Gershenson

American University - School of Public Affairs


We provide novel evidence on the causal impact of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that includes the date and class period of each absence. Our identification strategy addresses potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting the fact that in a given year, there exists within-student, between-class variation in absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not appear to affect test scores, which provides a further check of our identification strategy. We find that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 math classes reduces math test scores by 7% of a standard deviation, math course grades by 19% of a standard deviation, the probability of on-time graduation by 8%, and the probability of college enrollment by 7%. Similar results hold for absences in English Language Arts classes. These results suggest that absences in middle school and high school are just as harmful, if not more so, than absences in elementary school. Moreover, the timing of absences during the school year matters, as both the occurrence and the impact of absences are dynamic phenomena.

Keywords: student absences, achievement gaps, education production function

JEL Classification: I2

Suggested Citation

Liu, Jing and Lee, Monica and Gershenson, Seth, The Short- and Long-Run Impacts of Secondary School Absences. IZA Discussion Paper No. 12613, Available at SSRN: or

Jing Liu (Contact Author)

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Monica Lee

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Seth Gershenson

American University - School of Public Affairs ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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