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Report: Nearly 1 in 5 Indiana students chronically absent

Report: 1 in 5 students chronically absent

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s top education authorities on Wednesday said communities will have to join with schools to reverse a disturbing trend in students missing class.

The state’s latest numbers show 19.3% of Indiana schoolchildren were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year. The state defines chronic absenteeism as missing at least 10% of school days, or three weeks. That’s down slightly from the 2021-2022 school year, but still far above the 10.6% logged during the 2018-2019 school year, the last full school year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chronic absenteeism was especially problematic in high school, with one-third of high school seniors missing at least three weeks of instruction last year.

Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner called the numbers “a rally cry” to look for solutions. She said she was particularly struck by the racial disparity in the numbers. Chronic absenteeism among Black students during the last school year hit 30%, double the rate for white students and 11 points above the statewide average.

“When we look at the chronic absenteeism, I think it goes back to our board discussion in July or August, might that be a root cause?” Jenner said, referring to challenges that disproportionately affect Black families. “I think we see right here, gosh, it could absolutely be a root cause.”

Jenner and other board members said complaints of absentee students in schools appear similar to complaints of absentee workers. They said schools and community leaders need to find a way to connect with parents about the importance of going to school. U.S. Department of Education figures show chronic absenteeism in pre-K through third grade, which peaked at 21% for kindergarteners last year, means a student will be significantly less likely to read at grade level by third grade. A study in Utah found students who were chronically absent for one year from grades 8-12 were seven times more likely to drop out of high school.

Board member William Durham said he thinks schools need some mechanism to hold parents accountable if their children repeatedly miss school for non-medical reasons.

“I don’t know what can be done about that, but in my opinion, something has to be done, because growing up in my household, going to school was not an option,” Durham said.

The Indiana Department of Education on Wednesday released a developmental version of an early warning dashboard, meant to help educators identify students at risk of not graduating and direct resources to help them out.