School attendance is way down, and some districts report as many as half of students don't show up regularly.
Attendance in public education has long been a perpetual issue in public schools. Long before the pandemic staggered education across the nation, the Department of Education knew attendance issues needed to be addressed. In 2016, it was reported that over 7 million students missed 15 or more school days, equal to about 1 in 6 students, with the worst offenders being in high schools. When the pandemic hit, absenteeism got much worse. And now, some schools are reporting that more than half of their students don’t attend school regularly as the need to address this issue grows.
In Yakima, Washington, school leaders are raising concerns about chronic attendance issues. According to local news reports from KIMA, school leaders say that only half of their students show up to school on a regular basis. That means that some eight thousand children in the distinct are missing out on their education.
Before the pandemic hit, Yakima School District held much higher ratings for school attendance. Nearly 75% of the city’s students attended school regularly. For measurement, the district constitutes regular attendance as being in school at least 90% of school days.
The school district’s Director of Safety and Security told reporters that the district is receiving this information regarding attendance through their joint initiative program with police called Handle With Care. The initiative was enacted as Yakima residents saw a growing need to address a domestic violence problem affecting today’s youth. The program allows the Yakima police to inform the school district on matters of chronic absenteeism.
As the district’s policy on attendance reads, students who consecutively miss 20 or more days are disenrolled from the district. This year alone, Yakima has been forced to withdraw 250 students from schools for this reason. It’s also estimated that about one thousand children live inside the city limits but aren’t affiliated with any type of schooling. The number is concerning, as the district also states that the majority of children on that list are aged five to eight years old.
School districts around the nation are discussing the attendance problem, but a lot of it may not be due to neglect. Attendance rates are also affected by COVID diagnoses’. In many states, children are forced to quarantine at home for multiple days even if they aren’t necessarily sick. Now, it’s normal to see children who usually have near-perfect attendance rates forced to miss school due to the pandemic.
The truth is also in the data, as a look at statistics on attendance shows how hard schools were hit with absenteeism during the pandemic. According to the National Survey of Public Education’s Response to COVID-19 conducted by the American Institute of Research (AIR), attendance rates have dropped even lower than before the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the average absence rate for students across America was about 6%. But in 2020, that rate jumped to 10% in the fall.
The connection between student attendance and learning is being studied more than ever before. Chronic student absence affects children’s academic levels in big ways. Students who attend school on a regular basis have been shown to achieve higher levels than students who do not. That correlation is supposed to be the greatest among elementary students. The problem is known, and now school districts across the nation have yet another task to handle: getting children back inside classrooms.