Oregon, among worst states for chronic student absenteeism, announces $7 million effort

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Oregon ranks No. 5 on a list of states with the worst school attendance problems nationwide. On that list from Education Week, which uses data from the U.S. Department of Education, Washington ranks No. 3. It says during the 2015-2016 school year about 23 percent of students in Oregon and 27 percent of students in Washington missed three weeks of school or more.

On Tuesday, Oregon's Department of Education announced a $7 million effort to fight chronic absenteeism, a term authorities in the state use when a student misses 10 percent or more of school days during an academic year. That comes out to 14 to 18 days depending on the school district, and authorities say missing that much school can really hurt a child's education.

Oregon's graduation rate is still among the lowest in the country at 77 percent. State authorities say that's due in no small part to the fact that around one in six students is chronically absent. They did not explain the discrepancy between state data and federal data, which again showed 23 percent of students as chronically absent during the 2015-2016 school year.

"Every time a kid misses school they’re missing instruction," Carla Wade, the interim director of data operations and grants management for Oregon's Department of Education, told KATU on Tuesday.

"We want to see an increase in attendance," she said. "It has an implication on early grades and their ability to read and learn the content they need to be successful later on in their school career.”

She described an effort called "Every Day Matters" that includes a website and other resources to help get kids to class.

"Community is critical to the work we’re doing around chronic absenteeism," Wade said. "It's our educators who need to understand and have that welcoming environment. Our parents need to understand the importance of being at school.”

Twenty-seven school districts statewide are receiving support from special chronic absenteeism coaches. Around 60 other school districts are also receiving more limited help.

In KATU's viewing area the 27 school districts include the Lincoln County School District where about 29 percent of students are chronically absent, as well as the Clatskanie School District, Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Centennial School District and the Reynolds School District.

"We want to find ways to engage students and to have a chance to succeed with them," Lillian Govus, the director of community relations and communications for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, told KATU.

She said the district launched an effort of its own at the beginning of this school year aimed at keeping kids in class.

"Chronic absenteeism adds up really fast," Govus said. "Two days of school a month becomes chronic absenteeism.”

Oregon's Department of Education says school districts with the worst attendance problems include the Union School District in Eastern Oregon where about 47 percent of the students are chronically absent, followed by the Mitchell School District in Central Oregon, the North Lake School District, the Riddle School District and the Falls City school district in KATU's viewing area.

Right now, Washington state is attempting to battle absenteeism in schools in part with an attendance competition. Schools there have partnered with the community for an awareness campaign. They've set specific goals and are pushing it as a big priority for student, and they're creating specific plans for students who've had problems with truancy in the past The contest ends at the end of this month and prizes may include a visit from a Seahawks or Sounders player.

Katy Payne, a spokeswoman for Washington's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), sent KATU the following statement:

"OSPI is reporting chronic absence data through the Regular Attendance metric; as one of our School Quality and Student Success (SQSS) measures under our new accountability framework. Regular Attendance will be reported as part of our redesigned state report, and will be publicly available in December. The OSPI attendance data are reported directly to OSPI from local districts who receive support, professional development, and technical assistance on the standard definitions and reporting requirements support the reliable collection of this statewide data. Based on this statewide data collection, our 2015-16 state Regular Attendance data show a 14.6% chronic absence rate (a Regular Attendance rate of 85.4%).

· The (Civil Rights Data Collection - CRDC) that you are referencing (from the Education Week rankings) is reported directly from districts to the (U.S. Education Department) Office of Civil Rights. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction does not participate directly in the CRDC data collection, so it is difficult for us to address all the factors that could cause these differences, but we are aware of the different publicly available rates.

· Differences in the CRDC and OSPI rates aside, we acknowledge that we have work to do and are committed to supporting our schools and students to attend school regularly. We are working on addressing attendance through a multi-pronged, multi-tiered approach; raising awareness state-wide about the importance of attendance; sharing best policies and practices to shift our culture of attendance state-wide; and we have established consistent rules, definitions, and reporting requirements. Please find resources and best practices on our OSPI Attendance website."


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