Chronic truancy can have severe consequences for children, including academic failure, grade retention and eventual high school dropout. Truancy has also been associated with behavioral problems, delinquency, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, among other bleak outcomes (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Baker, Sigman, & Nugent, 2001). The OJJDP recommends that a model truancy program have early and intense intervention, family participation, and court, school and community involvement. The TASC (Truancy Assessment and Service Center) program is an early, intensive case management truancy remediation program operating in grades K-5 that possesses these components. Few elementary truancy programs exist and there is no literature suggesting that elementary school truancy programs have been rigorously evaluated to date. To remedy this gap, the authors present preliminary data evaluating the efficacy of one inner city TASC site for one year using a quasi experimental design.
It was important to utilize an experimental analytical method in this evaluation that could be used without denying services to referrals on a program funded for at risk children in Louisiana by the legislature. A Regression Discontinuity (RD) design offered the ability to apply an empirical method, without the problems inherent in a true (random) experimental design (Lesik, 2006). Thus, according to RD protocol, we determined children most in need of the program treatment by a cut-off score calculated from weights assigned to items on the referral form from schools and on a risk assessment form filled out by teachers. By comparing the outcomes of the intensive case management system treatment for high risk children with the notification and monitoring system treatment for low risk children the effectiveness of the program was revealed (Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002). Specifically, the dependent variable was a measure of the decrease in proportion of unexcused days missed before and after referral. A number of control variables were included in the model, including a dummy variable indicating program treatment for high risk children, demographics, other academic measures and case closure status.
Out of 701 children referred to the program, approximately half were determined to be at high risk for further truancy and were assigned to the intensive TASC treatment program. Preliminary RD analysis regression results showed that being in the TASC program significantly reduced unexcused absences after referral at an .05 level, whereas those cases that were closed successfully had reduced unexcused absences at 3 times that rate (and at the .000 level). Significant control variables in the regression model were Black and ever being retained in a grade, both of which were negatively related to having reduced unexcused absences after referral.
Conclusions & Implications:
These data provided promising findings that will be used to improve upon our RD design and to extend it to additional years and other TASC sites around the state of Louisiana. With results from further research, other states experiencing the devastating impact of high absentee rates could examine the possibility of implementing this unique truancy intervention program in their districts, as well.