New data shows 6.5 million U.S. students chronically absent

New data shows 6.5 million U.S. students chronically absent

(District of Columbia)  In a first of its kind survey, the U.S. Department of Education reported Tuesday that more than 6.5 million of the nation’s K-12 students are chronically absent from class – about 13 percent of combined enrollments.

For high school the numbers are even more stark – close to three million miss at least 15 days or more, which is about 18 percent of enrollment.

The findings were drawn from the department’s biennial collection of student data that monitors a variety of educational and civil rights issues, which for the first time included new details about students who miss school for any reason.

Last year, President Barack Obama initiated a national campaign to support districts and local communities in combatting the growing number of students who are chronically absent. One objective of the effort was to better establish exactly the magnitude of the problem.

Tuesday’s release of the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection, or CRDC, found that poor attendance is especially problematic for many high school subgroups:

  • 20 percent of Latino students are chronically absent
  • 22 percent of black students are chronically absent
  • 20 percent or more of American Indians are chronically absent.
  • 20 percent of all English learners are chronically absent.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the study also found that high school students with disabilities are 1.3 times as likely to be chronically absent as high school students without disabilities.

As part of the reauthorization legislation in December, Congress required in the Every Student Succeeds Act that states must collect and distribute annual reports on school and student performance, along with data on student discipline, school arrests, preschool enrollment, accelerated coursework, per pupil expenditures and chronic absenteeism.

ESSA also requires states to adopt new accountability systems that include at least one measure of “school climate” that could be represented using attendance data, among other options.

Other highlights from the report include evidence that schools are finding other means to deal with on-campus disruptions beside  suspensions or expulsions. The new data found that out-of-school suspensions decreased nearly 20 percent since 2012-13.

Still an issue, however, is that English learners and students with disabilities continue, on average, to be disciplined more often than their classmates.

“The Obama Administration has always stressed how data can empower parents, educators and policy makers to make informed decisions about how to better serve students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a statement. “The stories the CRDC data tell us create the imperative for a continued call to action to do better and close achievement and opportunity gaps. This is one of the reasons I am excited by the opportunity offered by the new Every Student Succeeds Act. It makes clear the obligation our schools and states have to ensure that all students have access to an excellent education that prepares them to succeed in college and careers. It also makes clear that ESSA's Title I funds are to be used to provide the additional support needed to make that happen.”

Other highlights:

  • More than half of high schools do not offer calculus, four in 10 do not offer physics, more than one in four do not offer chemistry, and more than one in five do not offer Algebra II, which is considered a gateway class for success in college.
  • 10 percent of the teachers in schools with high numbers of black and Latino students are in their first year of teaching, compared to only 5 percent in schools with low numbers of black and Latino students.
  • In kindergarten through the 12th grade, black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as are white students. Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be expelled — removed from school with no services — as are white students.
  • More than 20 percent, or close to 850,000 high schools, lack any school counselor.
  • Only a third of high schools with high black and Latino enrollments offer calculus, compared to 56 percent of those that serve low numbers of black and Latino students.

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