Behind the Education Metrics: Building Blocks for a Healthy Community

Nov. 1, 2021

Jessica Athens & Peggy Hsieh

About the Metrics

People with more education live longer, healthier lives and their children are more likely to thrive. Given the important role education plays in our health and well-being, the Dashboard includes three education measures that users can dig into when looking to paint a clearer picture of their city’s health and opportunities.

Update: In November 2021, the City Health Dashboard replaced the third-grade reading proficiency metric with third-grade reading scores. The new metric is based on data from Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA), provides multi-year data starting with the 2010-2011 school year, and is comparable across cities in different states. Also, while the new metric excludes special education and virtual schools, the earlier version included all school types. This decision was made based on expert consultation with (SEDA). In addition, the Dashboard changed the school inclusion criteria for the absenteeism metric to match the criteria for third-grade reading scores, so these two education metrics are more comparable. This blog has been edited in part to reflect this change in metrics. The high school completion metric has not been changed.

  1. Third-Grade Reading Scores: This metric assesses students’ ability to read at grade level. Third grade is a key period in educational development, where students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Not surprisingly, these early reading skills help predict future academic success: students reading at the expected standards by third grade typically have higher grades, are more likely to complete high school, and are more likely to go on to post-secondary education.

  2. High School Completion: This second education measure included in the Dashboard represents the percent of residents who are 25+ years old who have received at least a high school diploma (or equivalent). High school completion is associated with improved individual health, and higher rates of high school completion in a community are associated with lower levels of poor population health outcomes and health disparities. Graduating from high school can result in a person having a lower of risk of developing chronic health conditions, being more likely to have access to healthcare, and being less likely to experience unemployment later in life.

  3. Absenteeism: Absenteeism is the last education measure included in the Dashboard and represents the percent of public school students who miss 15 or more school days in an academic year. This measure counts absences for any reason, including excused absences and absences due to illness. Poor school attendance limits students’ ability to learn and move on to the next grade. Among older students, chronic absences are also linked to a greater likelihood of substance abuse, violence, and delinquency. Challenges such as homelessness, social or financial hardships at home, or severe health conditions can also play a role in chronic absences.5 Both third-grade reading scores and high school completion are affected by whether students regularly attend school.

All three of these metrics—third-grade reading scores, high school completion, and absenteeism—impact health and social and economic opportunities later in life.  

What Do Our Data Show?

Across the Dashboard’s original 500 cities, we see associations among these three education measures.*

There is a positive association between third-grade reading scores and high school completion (correlation coefficient = 0.60). On average, places with higher average reading scores had more residents’ age 25+ who have completed high school.

There is a negative association between third-grade reading scores and absenteeism (correlation coefficient = –0.49). On average, cities with less absenteeism among students also tend to have higher reading scores.

There is a negative association between high school completion and absenteeism (correlation coefficient = –0.17). On average, cities with less absenteeism among students also had higher percent of residents’ age 25+ who have completed high school. This association is not as strong as the other two but is still significant.

Taking Action

The relationships between regular school attendance, third-grade reading success, and high school completion are significant. Communities can work together to view their city’s data on the Dashboard and refer to a number of evidence-informed strategies and resources that can help encourage regular attendance, improve reading skills, and support high school completion. Some of our favorites include:

  • Third-Grade Reading Scores Resources

    • Technology-enhanced classroom instruction that are incorporated into traditional classroom learning and deliver supplemental lessons at each student’s assessed level.

    • Summer learning programs that focus on either low-performing students or the whole student body, providing academic instruction and enrichment activities including art and outdoor play.

  • High School Completion Resources

    • Mentoring programs for high school graduation that pairs adult mentors with at-risk students to provide guidance through academic and personal challenges.

    • School-based social and emotional instruction designed to help students recognize and manage emotions, set and reach goals, and handle interpersonal situations effectively.

  • Absenteeism Resources

    • Attendance interventions for chronically absent students that help address individual, familial, and school factors that contribute to absences.

    • School-based health centers for elementary, middle, and high school students that provide a variety of primary and preventative health care services.

These are just a small sample of the strategies cities can use to address educational challenges and increase opportunities for all residents. Explore all of the Dashboard’s resources for taking action and let us know what’s working in your community by connecting with us on social media or emailing us at [email protected].

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