Indiana Confronts Extreme Chronic Absenteeism

Indiana Confronts Extreme Chronic Absenteeism

More than a third of Indiana high school seniors and 1 in 5 K-12 students were chronically absent last year, according to an article in The 74.

Half of students in 84 Indiana schools were chronically absent last year. Chronic absenteeism is defined as when students miss at least 10% of school days, or 18 days in a year.  Indiana has its own higher goal for its students— 94% attendance — but 40% are missing that mark.

“Prior to Covid our learning incomes needed improvement,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner told The 74. “But when you look at our chronic absenteeism data, we’re setting up for a situation that’s a vicious cycle.”

Students who struggle academically, Jenner said, are the most likely to be chronically absent. 

“When they’re missing almost a month of school, or in some cases more than a month, it’s causing significant challenges for our educators to get them caught back up,” she said. 

Indiana is far from alone in its struggle with student attendance. A study by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University shows that 2 out of 3 students in the U.S. were enrolled in schools with high or extreme rates of chronic absenteeism during the 2021-22 school year. 

But Indiana data is particularly stark. While nearly 40% of students in Indianapolis, the state’s biggest district, were chronically absent last year, in Gary, that number was more than 70% and in Muncie, more than 60% of students missed more than three weeks of school, according to the State Department of Education. 

The most vulnerable groups are the most likely to be chronically absent, state data shows. More than 30% of black students missed more than three weeks of school last year. Over a quarter of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch were chronically absent, as were 1 in 5 English language learners.

Family poverty is one issue at the core of the problem. When asked why they are so frequently absent from school, high school students have said that they must care for younger siblings while a parent works. Other students report that because they are not fluent in English, they don’t understand what their teachers are saying.

With this high level of chronic absenteeism, Attendance Works Executive Director Hedy Chang said, the school’s climate must be missing core elements that make kids feel safe and engaged. To get students to attend school regularly, administration must launch a school-wide effort to create a secure and welcoming environment. 

“My first question would be, ‘Do I make sure that every kid has an adult on that campus they can talk to?’” Chang said.

Physical and emotional safety and a feeling of belonging are among the core conditions necessary to engage students, she said. “You can send out communications saying, ‘we miss you,’ but if a student doesn’t feel like anybody at the school cares about them, some little note might not do a lot.”

The 74

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