Absenteeism rates continue to climb in the Evergreen State

Absenteeism rates continue to climb in the Evergreen State

(Wash.) Already facing one of the highest rates of absenteeism in the country, education leaders in Washington state are again calling on schools and families to ensure children are making it to class every day following an announcement that chronic absenteeism rates have continued to rise.

 Despite local efforts to improve attendance, data released last week by the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction shows almost 47 percent of students in Washington were considered chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year–an increase of almost 1 percent over the 2014-15 school year.

Students are labeled as chronically absent if, as defined in state law, they miss 10 percent or more of their school days, equaling 18 days in a year or two days per month. Studies have long shown that across all grade levels, children who are chronically absent fare worse academically than their peers, and are more likely to drop out.

“About 21 percent of our students are not graduating high school, and absenteeism plays a huge role in that,” Chris Reykdal, superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “We share this data with districts, educators, parents, and communities because we all have a role to play in promoting good attendance and getting our students graduated.”

It has long been understood that students with high rates of absenteeism are less likely to graduate than their peers, and are more likely to suffer academically. For younger students–specifically those between kindergarten and third grade–those who miss the most school are less likely to read at grade level, which only sets them further back each year.

In order to highlight and address the issue, a handful of states have indicated that they will use chronic absenteeism as the fifth indicator of school performance called for under the recently adopted Every Student Succeeds Act. Researchers at the Brookings Institute released a report last year noting that using chronic absenteeism for accountability purposes will help improve student achievement.

Washington state has the second-worst chronic absenteeism rate in the U.S. behind the District of Columbia, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. As a result, lawmakers will use chronic absenteeism as a school performance indicator.

Further, legislators adopted changes to the state’s Truancy and Compulsory Attendance laws in order to shift the focus from truancy to prevention and excessive excused absences.

And U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Vancouver, authored a bill she said will give local schools flexibility to tackle chronic absenteeism. Her bill would allow schools to Title IV-A block grants to collect data to better identify the causes of absenteeism and monitor if any progress is being made, and would give districts the ability to tap into other funding sources to implement programs to reduce absenteeism through school-based mentoring programs.

The data released by the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office show certain subgroups continue to struggle more with absenteeism. Homeless students and those who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native were tied for the highest with chronic absenteeism rates of 33 percent.

Students with disabilities, migrant and English learners, and those from low-income households also had rates higher than average in the state, while Asian children had the lowest rate of chronic absenteeism at 10 percent.