Chronic Absenteeism Rates at Schools Still Way Above Pre-COVID Levels

As high school seniors across the country line up to receive their diplomas this month, public school leaders look ahead to the continued fight against chronic absenteeism so students can graduate on time.

The attendance problem reached a crisis level—a national average of about 31 percent in the 2021–2022 academic year—when students in most states were expected to return to in-person learning after the COVID pandemic.

Chronic absenteeism, at about 15 percent in 2019, is defined as missing 10 percent or more of instruction time.

In lieu of updated figures from the U.S. Department of Education after 2022, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) public policy research center published a report earlier this year noting 2023 figures based on data from states and individual school districts. According to that organization, which gathered information from 38 states and Washington, DC, the chronic absenteeism rate last year averaged about 26 percent.

“Chronic absenteeism is arguably the No. 1 problem facing public schools today, and it will likely hamper pandemic academic recovery and further widen achievement gaps in the coming years,” said AEI’s January report “Long COVID for Public Schools: Chronic Absenteeism Before and After the Pandemic.”

While student employment, transportation issues, and bullying were identified as major factors for chronic absenteeism before, during, and after the pandemic, the AEI report attributes the drastic rate increase to a cultural problem.

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“During the pandemic, “altered school practices loosened established norms for school attendance, and over the past few years, students and families have grown accustomed to these new norms,” the report said.

“The pandemic surge in chronic absenteeism may not support this cultural diagnosis, but the post-pandemic durability of that surge does.”

The report noted that in 2022, Arizona had the highest student absenteeism rate in the nation, at 48 percent, while Alabama’s was the lowest at 18 percent.

The Indiana Department of Education, meanwhile, is taking a statewide approach to ensuring that student attendance and on-time graduation rates will improve. The Hoosier state reported a 19.3 percent chronic absenteeism rate in 2022, or about 8 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels. More than 80 districts saw rates approaching 50 percent or higher.

The department is currently selecting districts to pilot an “Early Warning System” for the coming fall semester. The goal is to eventually offer real-time attendance tracking dashboards to administrators, educators, and parents in every school district.

The dashboard shows data at the grade and school levels, in addition to excused and unexcused absences, and chronic absence rates. It “allows users to view longitudinal data that can be disaggregated by student population,” the education department noted in a June 14 email response to The Epoch Times.

Nationally, the Biden administration and nonprofit agencies that support public education have launched public awareness campaigns.

During the Every Day Counts Summit on May 15, the White House called on “states, cities, towns, and schools to cultivate a culture of attendance and send a clear message that students need to be in school. “

Suggestions announced during the summit include pushing educators to visit the homes of chronically absent students to discuss ways to get them back to class, “making school more relevant so students want to be there,” and investing in full-service community schools that also connect families to housing, health care, and child care solutions, according to a news release on the White House website.

The U.S. Department of Education also announced a $250 million grant program aimed at helping school districts decrease absentee rates and boost student engagement. This follows the agency’s $25 million program that works to increase interest in career and technical education programs.

In the months ahead, federal leaders will also look at providing aid to students who rely on public transportation, according to their news release, and they will promote the use of Early Warning Systems like the one being tested in Indiana.

The release said that, all told, $8 billion is earmarked in the 2025 fiscal year budget to increase student attendance and engagement and close “opportunity and achievement gaps” across the country.

Attendance Works, a national nonprofit, recently publicized a series of talking points, guides, reports, and case studies on school districts across the country that found creative solutions to boost attendance as part of its Attendance Awareness Campaign 2024. Free webinars on the topic are scheduled for Aug 7 and Sept. 25.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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