With 16 percent of kids ‘chronically’ absent, Maine struggles to get them to school
More than 29,000 Maine students are missing enough class time to cause worry among school administrators and state education officials responsible for helping them succeed.
The Maine Department of Education last week released 2016-17 school year data for districts across the state that show that 16 percent of the nearly 192,000 students included in the data are chronically absent.
“To be honest, it’s higher than we anticipated it being,” said Janette Kirk, the DOE’s deputy director of learning systems.
Research shows that students who miss that many days lag behind their peers, run the risk of becoming disengaged in school or dropping out, and are more likely to fail classes. Even pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who miss substantial amounts of school tend to struggle more than their peers later on, according to the Brookings Institute.
Maine considers a student absent if they miss more than half a school day. Students are chronically absent if they miss 10 percent of school days — or 18 days in a 175-day school year.
New way of measuring
The Maine Department of Education recently started tracking chronic absences as an accountability indicator under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the sweeping federal education law passed in 2015.
In past years, the state monitored attendance by having schools report what percentage of students showed up for class each day and calculating average daily attendance. Because a vast majority of students attend school most of the time, the smaller number of students who were absent most often got lost in the data. The average daily absence rate across the state was just 6 percent in 2016-17, masking the significance of chronic absenteeism, according to Kirk.
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