New report: 17 percent of Illinois’ public school students considered “chronically absent”

A new report shines a light on chronic absence at schools and points a finger back at the institutional environment, not just a child’s home life. (Photo courtesy: WJBC/File)

By Illinois Radio Network/Cole Lauterbach

SPRINGFIELD – It’s not just a child’s home life that can lead to chronic absenteeism. Student attendance generally is higher if the school conditions are better, according to a new report on chronic absenteeism.

Seventeen percent of Illinois’ public school students were considered “chronically absent” in that they missed more than 10 percent of school days in a year without a valid excuse. In a new report by Attendance Works and the American Institutes for Research, they say schools that pay attention to a student’s emotional and physical wellbeing, sense of belonging, and academic engagement will see fewer students missing school.

The report tracked a school district in Cleveland, Ohio, where a shooting occurred and documented the steps the district took to better engage students as well as handle truancy differently.

While absenteeism is classically thought of as an indicator of trouble at home, this study argues that it is also a symptom of a problem school environment.

“It is an indication of both external barriers to school but also possibly a reflection of internal conditions,” Attendance Works executive director Hedy Chang said.

When teachers and others are disengaged and allow a toxic environment for students, it acts as a push out of the school. Chang says the opposite is true for schools that are welcoming and have a better overall environment as well.

“It makes students want to show up to school, motivates them to show up to school even when they experience challenging conditions in the community,” she said.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to report on chronic absence data annually. The report says 36 states and the District of Columbia have included chronic absenteeism in their state implementation plans.

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