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Early High School Start May Drive Down Attendance

A new study finds that earlier high school start times are linked to a slight increase in rates of tardiness and absenteeism. The researchers assert that schools need to look at more than test scores to see the ways in which early start times negatively affect students.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools begin class after 8:30 a.m., but we know that most schools start much earlier,” said Dr. Melinda Morrill, an associate professor of economics at North Carolina (NC) State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

“We were able to look at five high schools that moved start times from 8:05 a.m. to 7:25 a.m. in order to examine the effect that the change had on students.”

For the study, the research team analyzed data on seven groups of students, with graduation years ranging from 2013 to 2019. Specifically, the team examined data from the freshman, sophomore and junior years of each student group. The change in start times was implemented in the 2012-13 school year. As an additional control group, the research team also looked at data from 14 other high schools in the same school district that had already begun using a 7:25 a.m. start time.

“There’s a growing body of research that suggests earlier start times can hurt test scores,” Morrill said. “We looked at that, but the numbers weren’t statistically significant one way or the other.”

However, the study findings show that the move to the earlier start times caused a small increase in the number of students who did not advance to 12th grade on time, says John Westall, a Ph.D. candidate at NC State and co-author of the paper.

“Specifically, the move from 8:05 to 7:25 was associated with students being 8% more likely not to advance to 12th grade on schedule.”

“We also wanted to look beyond testing to see if there were effects on other measures of academic engagement,” Morrill said. “And we found a significant increase in both absences and tardiness.”

The change to an earlier start time was linked to an increase of about one additional absence per year and just over three additional tardy arrivals per year for students. “So students were definitely missing more school,” Westall said.

Overall, later high school start times appear to be far better when it comes to getting to school.

“Looking at all 19 of the schools, we found that historically, the five schools that started at 8:05 had significantly lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness than the 14 schools that started at 7:25,” Morrill said. “But once those five schools moved their start time to 7:25, those advantages disappeared.

“The take-home message here is that we need to look at more than just test scores if we want to understand all of the ways that early start times can affect high school students,” Morrill said.

“We know that school districts have to consider a wide range of issues, such as transportation logistics, student safety, extracurricular activities and school finances. But the more we look, the more the findings suggest that there are significant consequences of early start times for students.”

The paper is published in the journal Economics of Education Review.

Source: North Carolina State University


Early High School Start May Drive Down Attendance

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Early High School Start May Drive Down Attendance. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Apr 2020 (Originally: 29 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Apr 2020
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