Chronic Absenteeism

Across America, chronic absenteeism continually plagues schools. Kids who are frequently absent tend to do worse in school, and are not well-equipped to face the world after school ends. Chronic absenteeism is widely described in the nation as missing 10 percent or more of school a year. To put that into perspective, that’s 18 days a year, or two days every month. Oregon specifically has a very severe problem with chronic absenteeism. According to the Oregonian, 20.5 percent of overall Oregon students missed at least 10 percent of the 2017-2018 school year, making them chronically absent.

Data released by the state of Oregon at the end of October shows that chronic absenteeism worsens most notably in middle schools and high schools. Because of this, Oregon is currently the third state in the nation for chronic absenteeism. Specifically Portland has some room to improve, as 20 percent or more of students are being defined as chronically absent. PPS documents from the 2017-2018 school year state that the average class size for high schools in the district is 25 per class. That is five students per class that will struggle in school as they will miss a significant portion of their school day, and be behind in multiple classes. In addition, according to OPB, Portland Public Schools’ highest chronic absenteeism rates come from 12th graders, of whom almost 42 percent are chronically absent. PPS’s freshmen, sophomore, and junior rates are below the state average.

In an interview, Franklin educator Pamela Garrett, who has seen and taught chronically absent students, was able to shed some light on the empty desks in her classroom. She stated that just about 10 percent of students in her classes are absent 2 or 3 days a week. When asked if she thought that there was any correlation on chronically absent students not doing as well as regular attendees of school academically, she said thought that there was. “If they are here, we can work them,” said Garrett. “But because they are not, that is an assumption I would make.” When asked if Franklin has any resources to help students who are chronically absent, she responded with a thoughtful “Yes. We have three people on staff. They go after the hardcore kids as well as doing home visits and home calls.” She then explained that the best way to catch up in school was to take advantage of tutoring in the library, tutorial, and finding time when the teacher available to ask questions about in class items. She also explained that kids who have difficulties with school at Franklin can be given incentives for going to school, such as being put on a gold card, which is a card that makes it so if one attends their classes, then a reward is given.

In an interview with Cade Champ, a student on a gold card plan, he talked about his experiences with school and how it could be improved. “It’s always been a struggle for me since I was a little kid. The hardest part of school is how long it is. It’s so hard for me… ADD plays a huge role in why I have such a hard time with school,” he stated. To get through the school day Champ says, “I like to fidget and play with my tech deck, and my eraser. I don’t care about grades. But having an incentive definitely helps me get through the day.” Champ was on a gold card plan where if he only missed two periods in a week, his parents would get him a new skateboard. When talking about his future, Cade thinks it will not be an office job. “I see myself working in trade or construction,” he states.  “I would hate to have a job where I just sit still.” When asked for his opinion on how to make school better for kids who struggle with it like he does, he stated that shorter classes, less talking from teachers, and a more hands-on approach to lessons would make him enjoy school much more.

Overall, when looking at the issue of chronic absenteeism, it becomes clear that significant change is needed, less change in Portland, but change all over Oregon. In an article on preventing chronic absenteeism by EducationDive, a news and analysis site for K-12 and higher ed, they recommend several ways to prevent chronic absenteeism. One, creating a more positive school culture, is obvious, but good. Making school a place students will want to go, through social interaction and good staff can make students enjoy being at school while learning. Letting students know expectation policies of tardiness and absenteeism helps as well, along with intervening early, to stop small problems before they get too large. Also, a policy undertaken by Franklin is additional support systems. Having an adult who helps and understands your issues, who can work with you and your parents in making sure you get to school on time every day, can give you incentive to go. In summary, Franklin has a strong support system which other schools should model, but Franklin should strive to improve on making school more interesting, as well as more hands-on.

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