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New data shows about 221,000 Indiana students struggle with chronic absenteeism

A group of students sit at a table holding laptops and phones.
Lauren Chapman
Students must miss 10% of the school year, or about 18 days, to be considered chronically absent. About 221,000 students meet that definition in Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Education says schools across the state have an attendance problem. The department introduced new attendance data and discussed possible solutions this week at an Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

IDOE Chief Information Officer John Keller began his presentation to the board on Wednesday with a question. He asked how many school buses Indiana’s chronically absent students would fill.

The answer: more than 3,000.

Students must miss 10% of the school year, or about 18 days, to be considered chronically absent. About 221,000 students meet that definition in Indiana.

Keller said Indiana’s rate of chronic absenteeism decreased slightly last year, but is still nearly double pre-pandemic levels. He said missing just three days of school is proven to negatively impact student learning.

“If one must find a silver lining here, it’s that we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “We hope that that continues this school year, but clearly, we’re far away from 2018-19 when there were 10.6% of students who were meeting that definition.”

Keller also said chronic absenteeism is a community problem that will take a concerted effort to solve. He said parents, families, and schools must work together to ensure children are attending school.

At most schools, about one in 10 students are considered chronically absent. However, some schools struggle with absenteeism more than others. IDOE data shows that in 84 Indiana schools, almost half of all students are chronically absent.

READ MORE: Indiana Department of Education expands statewide tutoring program as students struggle on tests

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Some student demographics are also more at risk of chronic absenteeism. IDOE data shows that students who get free or reduced meals, English language learners and students of color are more likely to be chronically absent from school.

High schoolers are also more likely to be chronically absent than elementary and middle school students.

“If we are targeting and really trying to invest dollars in moving the needle in student learning across all students, and specifically acknowledging some of our student populations when we look at chronic absenteeism, that goes back to a board discussion in July or August. Might [absenteeism] be a root cause [for low test scores]?" said Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner. "I think we see here, gosh, it could absolutely be.”

For students who are not chronically absent from school, absenteeism can still be a problem. Keller said about 40% of students are habitually absent, which means they miss about 10 days of school a year.

Jenner said the state is working toward solutions like an early warning dashboard for educators that is under development. The state is currently taking requests for proposals from companies to create the dashboard.

“Our plan is to pilot it in some schools this present school year, and our goal is to have it ready, available for all schools to use next school year,” Jenner said.

The dashboard should provide educators with data about which students are at risk of chronic absenteeism and why, give them ideas about how to support students with timely instruction in areas of difficulty, and help increase communication between educators and parents.

The IDOE is also planning to share more data about chronic absenteeism, work with a variety of organizations to understand the root causes and collaborate with other state agencies to find additional solutions.

Kirsten is IPB's education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Copyright 2023 IPB News.

Kirsten Adair

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