MDE reports high chronic absenteeism in public schools

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Education reported that more than 15 percent of Mississippi public school students miss a month or more of school.

According to a Mississippi KIDS COUNT report for the 2013-2014 school year, almost 75,000 K-12 students missed at least 18 days of instruction time.

KIDS COUNT is located at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center in Starkville, the MDE release states.

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The report, entitled “Present and Counting: A Look at Chronic Absenteeism in Mississippi Public Schools,” is the first of its kind used to examine areas of high chronic absenteeism, the release states.

The MDE defines absenteeism as missing 10 or more percent of the 180 day academic year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences, suspensions and a change of schools.

According to the release, absence rates were high in kindergarten and dwindling in early elementary years. A steady increase was reported throughout the middle and high school years. According to the report, 130 school districts had at least 10 percent of their students chronically absent while 11 districts saw 20 percent or more, the release states.

“Because it counts excused absences, the average daily attendance can mask a chronic absence problem in a school district,” Director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT Dr. Linda Southward said in the release. “Nationally, the evidence is mounting, there is a clear connection between school attendance and student achievement, particularly in improved math and reading skills by third grade. Improvements in children’s achievements can be made by not only enhancing school readiness so that children are ready to learn in the early years, but also align policies that promote school attendance.”

According to the report, 13.4 percent of students in “A” districts were chronically absent. In the “D” and “F” districts that rate was 16.4 percent.

Twelve percent of Mississippi kindergartners and first-graders missed at least 18 days of instruction time during the 2013-2014 school year, the release states.

According to the MDE, this can have a negative impact on a student’s third-grade reading proficiency.

“This report validates what teachers have long known, that missing school negatively impacts student learning,” State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright said in the release. “Being in school every day is critically important for all students from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. Chronic absenteeism can not only lower achievement levels, it also puts students at risk for dropping out of school.”

The report recommended that school districts adopt a standard definition of chronic absence, early recognition of students who are considered at-risk and establish action plans for students based on real-time attendance date.