Effects of Interventions with Chronic Truant Students: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Truancy has been linked to serious immediate and far-reaching consequences for youth, the youth’s family, school and community. Although hundreds of programs have been implemented and millions of dollars invested to reduce truancy, the rates of truancy have remained relatively unchanged. Much is known about the correlates and negative impacts of truancy; however, much less is known about what works to reduce truancy.
Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine the effects of indicated truancy interventions with chronic truant students to inform policy and practice. The following research questions for this meta-analysis are:
1) Do indicated programs with a goal of increasing student attendance affect school attendance behaviors of chronic truant students?
2) Are there differences in the effects of school-based, community-based, and court-based programs?
3) Are different modalities (i.e. individual, group) more effective than others in increasing attendance?
Systematic review methodology and meta-analysis, following Campbell Collaboration’s guidelines, were utilized to quantitatively synthesize effects of interventions and examine potential moderating variables. A comprehensive search strategy was utilized to locate published and unpublished studies. The search strategy included 18 electronic bibliographic databases and research registers; websites of relevant research centers; over 200 e-mails and letters sent to programs listed in databases of truancy programs; contact with truancy researchers; and reference lists of prior reviews and research reports. To be eligible, studies were required to meet the following criteria: 1) randomized or quasi-experimental design; 2) primary goal of increasing student attendance (or decreasing absenteeism) among chronic truant students; 3) measured attendance as an outcome; 4) published between 1990 and 2009 in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, or Canada. All eligible studies were coded using a structured coding instrument, with 20% being coded by second coder.
Descriptive analyses were conducted to examine and describe characteristics of the included studies. The standard mean difference effect size statistic corrected for small sample size (Hedges’ g) was utilized to calculate effect sizes using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis software. Homogeneity analysis (Q-test), to compare the observed variance to what would be expected from sampling error, and moderator analysis utilizing the analog to the ANOVA and meta-regression, were also conducted.
A comprehensive search strategy yielded 16 randomized and quasi-experimental studies. The meta-analytic findings demonstrated an overall significant, positive and moderate mean effect of 0.47 on attendance outcomes. The mean effect size, however, is masked by a large amount of heterogeneity, indicating significant variance in effects between studies. Moderator analyses found no significant differences in mean effects between studies on moderating variables tested.
Findings suggest that chronic truant students benefit from interventions targeting attendance behaviors. Given the similarity in effects across types of programs and other intervention characteristics tested, no single intervention stood out as significantly better than any other. The relatively small number of studies that met inclusion criteria, in addition to the heterogeneous meta-analytic findings, affirms the need for increasing and strengthening the evidence-base on which current truancy policies and practices rest. Implications for social work practice and research will be discussed.