By LAWRENCE WILSON
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — Chronic absenteeism in Washington public schools rose sharply during the pandemic but managed to stay below the worst national trends.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than two school days per month for any reason, including being quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure, according to Washington state attendance policy.
Children who miss school that often are less likely to read at grade level and less likely to graduate according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Prior to the pandemic, chronic absenteeism had dropped from an average of 17% in 2016-2019 to just 11% in 2019-2020. That rate spiked to 19% in 2020-2021, the most recent year reported by the OSPI.
Many states or state designates did not fare as well. The District of Columbia experienced 36.4% chronic absenteeism in 2020-2021. New Mexico’s rate was 29.7%. Oregon reported 28.1%. Colorado’s rate was 26%, as was North Carolina’s. Florida’s rate was 25.2%.
Increased rates of absenteeism have caused alam among some educators and consultants. A report on 2021-2022 school attendance by Attendance Works says the situation has reached a crisis level, claiming that absenteeism has doubled or tripled in some districts across the country.
The U.S. Department of Education has also labeled school absenteeism a crisis, listing the national rate at 16%.
While rates may have increased during the pandemic, many states’ chronic absentee rates remained closer to the national baseline. Kansas reported 17.6% for the 2020-21 school year, and Wisconsin reported 16.1%.
A true state-by-state comparison is difficult to achieve because not all states report data on absenteeism or compute it in the same manner.
The OSPI website provides advice on best practices and resources for educators in reducing absenteeism.More than 1 million students are enrolled in Washington schools at an annual taxpayer cost of just over $18,175 per student, according to the latest budget numbers.