Recently released data from the Superintendent of Public Instruction suggest that 16% of all students in Washington state are chronically absent from school, having missed at least 18 days of instruction, or 10% of the school year, in 2015.
Chronic absenteeism is one of the key factors when it comes to whether a child will learn to read on time or graduate from high school. The new data finds one out of every six students in the state was chronically absent last year.
Principal Patty Drobny of George T. Daniel Elementary School in Kent said it is typically the same children who are continually late or absent, citing a number of various excuses, adding that cultural factors sometimes come into play.
"What I heard the other day [from a parent] was, âThat's my baby, I don't want to force her up.' And then we had a talk about âIf it's your baby and you care about her, that's all the more reason to force her to get up in the morning,'" Drobny said.
Immigrant families sometimes originate from countries with more relaxed attitudes toward time. Other families need their older children to be available to help to babysit their younger siblings. Those in poverty cite reasons such as issues with transportation or health problems for either themselves or family members. Other students say they do not feel safe or comfortable at school.
Throughout the state, chronic absenteeism is disproportionately affecting Native American, Pacific Islander and low income students, who showed the highest rates of missing school in 2015, reports Jenna Hanchard for King5.
However, the data could be slightly skewed, as out-of-school suspensions also count as an absence, writes Ann Dornfeld for KUOW.
Executive director for Attendance Works Hedy Chang said that chronic absenteeism is not only a problem for students when it comes to missing school, but can also lead to other forms of trouble or indicate more serious problems elsewhere.
"Part of the reason why you want to track chronic absence is it's an early indicator that there are other life issues that might also be affecting their academic performance," Chang said.
Various schools in the state have begun to make an effort to do more than simply send a form letter home with students who are consistently late for school or absent. Drobny said teachers at her school meet with parents in order to try to find out the real reason behind the absenteeism. She said many parents do not understand that missing even only two days a month can add up to 10% of the entire school year.
She went on to say that a number of parents were shocked to hear how much instruction their children were missing out on, especially those with children in kindergarten and the first grade, which are considered to be "optional" grades.
In an effort to combat the high absenteeism rate in the state, an initiative has begun to educate parents and get students excited about going to school. The state is currently considering a strategy used in New York City that assigns a "success mentor" to students who are chronically absent. It is up to the mentor to keep track of each student's attendance, and the mentor pushes the student to continue to arrive to school each day.
Chang said the release of the data in the state will allow districts to compare data with each other, with the hopes of finding successful districts who are willing to share their strategies with those who are falling behind.