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Report: Arkansas Schools Have High Rates of Chronic Absenteeism

A new report says that students who miss more than 18 days of school are considered chronically absent and at risk for reading below their grade level. (Gallup/GettyImages)
A new report says that students who miss more than 18 days of school are considered chronically absent and at risk for reading below their grade level. (Gallup/GettyImages)
September 11, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new report shows that more than 150 Arkansas public schools have high rates of chronic absenteeism.

The study, published by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center, found rates of 30 percent or higher at 50 schools and 20 to 29 percent at another 109 campuses.

Missing too many days of school, according to Ginny Blankenship, education policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, can keep a student from progressing academically, particularly in the early grades.

"We found it to be a predictor of how prepared they are to be reading on grade level by the end of the third grade,” she explains. “If you've missed a lot of school, you've lost a lot of learning time. That makes it really hard to catch up after that third-grade mark."

Blankenship says some of the main causes of chronic absenteeism include health problems, unreliable transportation, unstable family situations or frequent housing moves.

She adds that while absenteeism occurs among students from all income levels, the problem is worse for children living in poverty.

Blankenship says more than 12 percent of all Arkansas students in kindergarten through third grade were chronically absent during the 2014-2015 school year.

"We're not really talking about truancy when we talk about chronic absenteeism,” she points out. “It's for excused and unexcused absences, generally defined as missing about 10 percent of the school year, which is roughly 18 days here in Arkansas."

Starting next term, Arkansas districts will begin reporting chronic absences as a part of the state's school accountability program. Blankenship says many schools are taking proactive steps to rein in the problem.

"A lot of districts have a dedicated staff person to serve as a family liaison,” she points out. “That person can help even go pick up a child or help connect that family to different social services. "

The study reports that, across the country, more than 7 million students are listed as chronically absent. It found few differences among the rates found in rural, urban and suburban districts.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR