State officials say there’s a problem, but that their own data don’t reveal such a severe problem.
An analysis of new federal data showing Washington state has the second highest rate of students skipping school is at odds with state numbers that don’t paint such a gloomy picture.
The Associated Press looked at federal data released Tuesday that include for the first time details about how many students in the nation’s public schools miss more than 15 days. The national average for the 2013-2014 school year was 13 percent.
Nearly a third of Washington, D.C.’s students were considered habitually absent under that definition, the highest rate in the country. Washington state had the second highest, nearly 25 percent, according to AP.
But the national figures are much higher than the state’s own data for the same year — which was nearly 15 percent — or for the 2014-2015 school year, which was 16 percent.
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“I have a hard time believing that our kids are that much more absent than other states,” said Dixie Grunenfelder, director of secondary education for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “It’s not like we don’t have issues, but I would have more faith in our data at the state level than that data.”
One reason for the discrepancy is that Washington state doesn’t count students as habitually absent until they’ve missed 18 days — 10 percent of a 180-day school year — which is in line with research showing that kids who miss more than 10 percent of school are more likely to drop out.
But the education department’s Office of Civil Rights chose 15 days as the cutoff, to account for states that have longer or shorter school years, Grunenfelder said.
Also, Washington counts students absent whenever they’re out of the classroom unless it’s for an educational activity. That means kids who miss class for sports are still marked absent.
“I don’t think there’s a consistent definition around the country,” Grunenfelder said.
Kent School District is among several school systems in South King County that are using “early-warning” data systems to monitor attendance patterns so they can jump in early when they see a problem.
“We track this carefully, and each school can track it individually because we’re using it to make real-time decisions,” said Randy Heath, the district’s executive director of student and family support.
Last year, about 10 percent of Kent’s kindergartners missed 18 days or more, possibly because parents don’t believe it’s that important yet, Heath said. Attendance improves through elementary school, then starts falling in middle school and reaches around 13 percent in high school.
That’s been a consistent pattern, but this year, Kent made a big push to raise awareness about the importance of regular attendance, and they’re reinforcing that message with data they share with parents.
“It appears that at pretty much all grade levels, the chronic-absentee rate is going down,” Heath said.