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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ug, how can we solve anything if we confuse correlation with causation?

The headline reads: "School Absences Translate to Lower Test Scores, Study Says".

If you ain't in school, ya ain't gonna learn. That's obvious. But this article from Sarah D. Sparks implies causation--that missing school causes the lower test scores. Sparks argues that "The analysis contributes to mounting evidence that absenteeism puts students at greater risk of poor academic achievement and eventually dropping out of high school."

If it's true that absenteeism is a causal factor, the solution is very simple: make sure those kids get to school every day. So let's push for more government grant money to hire a whole army of truancy officers!

However, let's remember:

Any teacher will tell you that missing school is bad, but what really matters is why those kids are missing school. Correlations can be interesting but identifying causation is how you solve problems.

In my experience, unstable home lives drive the vast majority of absenteeism. It might be as simple as not having a parent around in the morning to get the kid out of bed and off to school. Or it might be a deeper issue with physical or mental abuse, the child having to serve as a caregiver, or the student working a job to help the family make rent for the month.

These are the factors that really impede and impair academic progress. Missing a day or two of school each week is bad. But living under constant threat or constant stress is completely destructive.

Observing that good students don't miss school is to view the tale completely in reverse. Here's the real story: some students have stable home lives and are able to focus on school and, as a result, tend to perform well.

Doctors must treat the cause of an ailment and not merely the symptoms. We'd be wise to do the same in education.