University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Chronic Absenteeism in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on September 12, 2018 at 12:56 pm

September is Attendance Awareness Month, and this week we learned that Little Rock School District is aiming to cut chronic student absenteeism by partnering with The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, ArKids Read, Heart of Arkansas United Way, and Optimist Club of Greater Little Rock. The idea is that academic performance will improve if students come to school.

But what IS chronic absenteeism?

Chronic Absenteeism is when students are missing a lot of school.  How many absences are chronic? It depends on who you ask.

From a national perspective, schools were first required to submit information on chronic absence to the Office of Civil Rights in the 2013-14 school year.  The OCR defined chronic absence as missing 15 days or more of the school year.  Data from 2015-16 showed an increase in chronic absenteeism, but researchers believe it is due to improved reporting.  Unfortunately, chronic absence data will now be collected through the US Department of Education’s Ed Facts Division.  These data will not be comparable, because chronic absence is defined differently.  Ed Facts will define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school days.

Chronic Absenteeism Impacts Kids

Chronic absence links to poor academic performance, delayed graduation, and higher dropout rates, and it correlates strongly with school climate issues such as bullying and poor transportation.

According to the new report Data Matters; Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success, Arkansas had a lower percentage of students chronically absent than in the nation as a whole. While the national rate of chronic absenteeism was 15.5%, only 14.1% of Arkansas students missed 15 days or more of school during the 2015-16 year.

Hedy N. Chang, one of the authors of the report, stated that attendance is strongly associated with academic success. Regular absences are an alert that students may need additional support and an investment of resources to have the opportunity to learn and thrive, Chang said. Barriers to good attendance include illness, trauma, unreliable transportation, negative school experiences such as bullying, lack of engagement and relevance to a child, poor discipline that pushes kids out and family failure to realize importance of school attendance. Although researchers have found a connection between poverty and absenteeism, there isn’t a strong correlation in Arkansas between school poverty rates and chronic absenteeism rates.

The map below shows the 2015-16 reported rates of chronic absenteeism in Arkansas school districts.  You can access an interactive map that drills down to the school level here.

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Chronic Absenteeism Impacts Schools

Chronic absenteeism has become a national education metric because the 2015 Every Student Success Act (ESSA) required states to include an indicator of School Quality and Student Success (SQSS).  This ‘fifth indicator’ indicator allowed states to place a value on elements of learning that are not typically measured on assessments. States had a substantial amount of freedom to decide which SQSS indicator(s) to include. Arkansas, like the majority of the states, selected chronic absenteeism as one of the measures of School Quality and Student Success used in the state accountability system.

Chronic absenteeism is one of several measures used to indicate SQSS in Arkansas.  Schools are awarded a point for each student who is present at least 95% of the school year, and a half a point for each student who missed between 6 and 9% of the school year.  Schools receive no points for students who are absent 10% of the year or more.  These attendance points are combined with the other SQSS indicators, so attendance doesn’t actually have a large impact on the overall score, but schools may feel incentivized to overlook reporting absences. When data are not valid and reliable, we can’t use them to support students.

As noted with the national attendance data collection, monitoring will be needed to ensure that good data are collected so we can reliably use it to determine relationships with student success in our schools. High rates of absenteeism signify the need to dig deeper to understand the underlying challenges.

Improving attendance rates requires an intentional shift away from punitive action and blame that have no evidence of yielding sustained improvements in attendance.  Arkansas has been working on moving away from such punitive action with Act 1329, banning Out of School Suspension as a consequence of truancy.  As OEP will report to the State Board on Friday, however, over 1,000 referrals for truancy resulted in OSS in the most recent school year.

Like Little Rock’s initiative, communication is key. Attendance Works provides a framework for improving student attendance in which educators starting with positive engagement and problem-solving to identify and address barriers to getting to school.

We celebrate all the schools that are examining the root causes of why students are missing school.  Let us know how we can help!


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