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New Report Examines Chronic Absenteeism in K-3 Arkansas Students

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A new report released this month details the problem of chronic absenteeism in Arkansas public schools and provides some possible low-cost solutions.

The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR) and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) co-authored the report titled, "Make Every Day Count: Reducing Chronic Absence in Arkansas."

In the report researchers analyzed data for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade during the 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 school years.

They defined chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school, which is almost 18 days in Arkansas. There was no differentiation between excused and non-excused absences.

Some key findings for the 2014-2015 school year include:

  • Kindergarten students were the most likely to be chronically absent (16 percent compared to 10 percent for 3rd graders).
  • Students in the 3rd grade who were economically disadvantaged and those who were disabled were more likely to be chronically absent (15 percent and 16 percent, respectively).
  • Hispanic students were least likely to be chronically absent (9 percent compared to 14 percent for black students and 12 percent for white students).
  • Chronically absent 3rd graders were less likely to be reading on grade level (20 percent compared to 30 percent of their peers).

Chronic_Absence_AR.jpg

Ginny Blankenship edited the report. She's the education policy director for AACF.

"It's really startling how many of our kindergarteners are missing more than 18 days of school, which is the equivalent of missing more than a month of learning every year," said Blankenship. "A lot of parents tend to think that missing a few days here and there is not that a big of a deal when their kids are very young, but our study of Arkansas data found that these students were less likely to be reading on grade level by 3rd grade."

The report also included case studies of three Arkansas elementary schools that had successfully cut down the number of chronically absent students.  Each school had no less than 80 percent of students from low-income families.

One of the schools, Parson Hills Elementary, in Springdale, Ark., successfully reduced its rate of chronic absenteeism from 14.9 percent of students in 2012-2013 to 5 percent in 2014-2015.

The school was able to achieve that through several initiatives that focused on the whole child, which included rewarding students for good attendance and having teachers reach out to parents of children with attendance problems through phone calls and home visits.

Blankenship said that's typical of the simple, low-cost and no-cost things the schools in the case study were doing to reduce their number of chronically absent students.

"It can be as simple as just making sure teachers are paying attention to the data on a regular basis especially early in the school year to catch any kind of attendance problems before they tend to snowball, reaching out to parents to let them know, 'Hey your kid wasn't in school today. We just wanted you to know we missed them, we want them back. Is there anything we can do to support you and your family?'"

State Role

The report also addressed the role of the state in solving this problem. Currently, Arkansas doesn't address chronic absenteeism by statute. The researchers say defining this problem and keeping records about it would go a long way toward educating the public and pinpointing the schools that need help.

The study found that during the 2014-2015 school year, 25 percent of chronically absent students were concentrated in 52 of the state's 522 elementary schools.

Arkansas does require schools to report average daily attendance. But Angela Duran, the campaign director for AR-GLR, said that's not enough.

"If you do that you're potentially missing huge groups of children or subgroups of children that are chronically absent," said Duran. "It kind of masks the problem. The other thing a state can do is support schools and districts' ability to actually measure and track the data."

Duran said the state should also make this data publicly available.

Over the last few years, AR-GLR has been working with schools and districts across the state to solve the problem of chronic absenteeism.

"We try to take the approach that addressing attendance is not something you do in isolation," said Duran. "So many of our schools have moved to learning teams, response to intervention teams, all manner of collaborative efforts to look at data and then use that to drive the decisions and the strategies that schools are taking in the classroom. We just encourage schools to make sure that attendance is part of the data that they're looking at and that addressing attendance is part of the strategy they're using to help children succeed."

Graphic: The study found kindergarten students were most likely to be chronically absent among students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. (Angela Duran)

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