One in Seven Utah Students Chronically Absent from School

Chronic truancy continues to be a problem in Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune reports, where nearly one in seven students missed at least 10% of class time over the course of one academic year. The absenteeism analysis, compiled by the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah, was presented at the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project webinar last week.

Too many student absences is a problem that Utah has been eager to solve. Not only does it have an overall impact on student achievement, schools with high truancy rates often have high drop out rates as well.

"Chronic absenteeism is a red alert that students are headed for academic trouble and eventually for dropping out," said Hedy Chang, a webinar speaker and director of Attendance Works, a national initiative to promote awareness about the importance of school attendance.

The UEPC study presented at the webinar used absenteeism data collected by the State Office of Education over the course of the 2010-2011 school year. According to the numbers, nearly 13.5% of Utah school kids were classified as chronically truant. The problem was particularly dire in kindergarten and first grade, after which the truancy rates declined until junior high, where they again rose rapidly. In total, nearly 25% of high school seniors were found to have been chronically absent at least once between grades 8 and 12.

The price paid by those who miss a lot of school is high. Students who were chronically absent in earlier grades were more likely to be behind their peers in reading and mathematics. They also, on average, earned lower grades on standardized tests administered in Utah each year between the 3rd grade and 12th.

The absenteeism problem isn't limited to Utah. At the webinar, Chang estimated that around the country, at least 7.5 million students miss close to a month of school a year, with some urban districts reporting absenteeism rates as high as 25%.

States are trying a broad range of approaches to combat the problem, from tagging students for easier tracking to ticketing or jailing parents who, the lawmakers believe, abet their children's truancy. Earlier this month, Lorraine Cuevas of Hanford, California was sentenced to 180 days in jail after her two children missed more than 116 days of school.

Meanwhile in San Antonio, Texas, Northside School District announced that it will be embedding RFID chips in student IDs to make it easier to track school attendance. Northside officials also touted the new chips as a safety measure because it will make it easier to locate students throughout the day.

10 31, 2012
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