A growing number of school districts have turned to sending home “nudge” letters when a student misses too many days of school in hopes of boosting attendance and, ultimately, student achievement.

Yet a new study of a recent pilot effort in Seattle Public Schools by a University of Washington College of Education researcher found that nudge letters sent to the families of chronically absent students had mixed results.

The analysis compared students just on either side of the 90 percent cutoff for designation as chronically absent whose family received the letter said Kellie Wills, a UW teaching associate who presented findings at the 2019 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The letter, sent at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, included the number of days missed in the previous year along with information about the importance of attendance for achievement outcomes. Wills explored the impact on attendance during the first two months of school and over the entire year.

Overall, Wills said, the study found that the letters were not effective in reducing absenteeism.

“The bright spot is that for middle school students, the letters did appear to have some effect on improving attendance,” Wills said.

Wills noted there remains a need for additional research on the middle school finding to confirm the impact of the nudge letters and, if so, better understand the reasons why the letters work better in the middle school years than at other grade levels.

“If that effect holds up, I would recommend that seems to be the sweet spot for using the nudge letters to improve attendance,” Wills said.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu