Student Absenteeism Could Soon Give Illinois Schools Trouble Under New Federal Rules

Student Absenteeism Could Soon Give Illinois Schools Trouble Under New Federal Rules

ILLINOIS (IRN) — Hundreds of thousands of Illinois students are considered “chronically absent” and that may make life difficult for schools in light of the new federal education requirements.

In the 2015 school year, the most recent year for which data was available, 335,094 Illinois students missed at least 10 percent of their school days. This is what advocacy group Attendance Works classifies as “chronically absent.”

In a report, the advocacy group said that a pattern of missing instruction can hurt a student’s development for years ahead.

“Starting as early as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, absenteeism can affect a child’s ability to read well by the end of third grade. Missing valuable instruction time can lead a student to fail courses in middle school, drop out from high school and show less persistence in college.”

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act is in effect, Attendance Works Executive Director Hedy Chang predicts these absences could get schools more government attention.

“They’re going to be using chronic absence, among other metrics, as one of the ways to identify which schools need to turn things around,” she said. “They’ll also be held accountable to see if the numbers reduce over time.”

Attendance Works figure is higher than the Illinois State Board of Education’s because the state only measures chronic truancy, which is classified as missing five percent of school days but doesn’t include excused absences. In 2015, ISBE said nine percent of students were chronically truant, compared to Attendance Works’ finding of 16.5 percent of students being chronically absent in Illinois. That gap represents more than 150,000 students.

The issue this creates, Chang said, is that it ignores other problems that may be fixable if only officials see it, such as a group of students out with asthma-related issues missing school because of a school-originated trigger.

“I don’t care why the kid missed out on instruction, if they’re missing out, they’re not benefitting from what’s being taught in the classroom,” she said.

New studies are beginning to show student attendance issues have a more profound impact than otherwise thought, not only on the student missing class but others around them.

“By eighth grade, a child’s attendance is a better predictor of whether they will graduate from high school than their eighth-grade test scores,” Chang said. “The teacher will struggle with what lesson to teach,” deciding on leaving the absent student behind or boring the others with a revisitation of yesterday’s lesson.

Illinois’ percent of absent students was near the national average, but Chang said all states measure differently.