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A Meta-analysis of the Effects of Dropout Prevention Programs on School Absenteeism


This study reports findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis of literature examining the effects of school dropout prevention and intervention programs on students’ school absenteeism outcomes. The meta-analysis synthesized 74 effect sizes measuring posttest differences in school absenteeism outcomes for youth enrolled in dropout prevention programs relative to a comparison group. Although results from randomized controlled trials indicated significant beneficial program effects, findings from quasi-experimental studies indicated no significant beneficial or detrimental effects. Examination of study characteristics suggested that dropout programs may have beneficial effects on school absenteeism among primarily male samples, and younger samples. Although no single type of intervention program was consistently more effective than others, vocational oriented and supplemental academic training programs showed some promise. However, the inconsistency in results and the possibility of small study bias mean the quality of evidence in this literature is low; at this time there is not enough evidence to conclude that dropout prevention programs have a universal impact on youth’s school absenteeism outcomes.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    A handful of studies included two or more measures of absenteeism (e.g., number of absences and number of tardies); in those cases we chose explicit measures of school absences over measures of attendance or tardies. Because many studies also reported multiple follow-ups on the same outcome, we chose the first effect size that could be calculated after the end of intervention. In some cases with lengthy (multi-year) program durations, effect sizes were only available while students were still enrolled in the intervention program; in these cases, we chose the last effect size that occurred during the intervention.

  2. 2.

    Ideally we would have used multivariate meta-regression models that adjusted for all other study characteristics in order to account for possible confounding among the moderators. However, given the relatively small number of studies and hence degrees of freedom, we instead examined each of the study level moderators in separate bivariate models. To assess the possibility of confounding we re-estimated multivariate meta-regression models that included any two study moderators with bivariate correlations > = .70, and found no substantive differences in the findings (results available upon request).


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Correspondence to Emily E. Tanner-Smith.

Additional information

This work was partially supported by a contract from The Campbell Collaboration to the second author. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect official positions of the sponsoring agency. The authors would like to thank Dr. Mark Lipsey for his assistance during the problem formulation and data collection stage of the project, as well as Dr. Chiungjung Huang, Dr. Nianbo Dong, Katarzyna Steinka-Fry, and Jan Morrison for their assistance with information retrieval and study coding.

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Tanner-Smith, E.E., Wilson, S.J. A Meta-analysis of the Effects of Dropout Prevention Programs on School Absenteeism. Prev Sci 14, 468–478 (2013).

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  • Dropout prevention
  • Meta-analysis
  • School absenteeism
  • School attendance
  • Truancy