Here’s what KTAR News learned from chronic absenteeism in Arizona schools
Feb 8, 2023, 4:25 AM
PHOENIX — Over the past week, KTAR News reported on an issue prevalent in Arizona schools — chronic absenteeism.
Reporter Griselda Zetino spoke with districts, nonprofits and other professionals about the root of the problem, its rise and what’s being done to reverse the troubling trend.
Here’s what we learned from the four-part series:
Chronic absenteeism is a problem in Arizona.
The issue, defined as missing 10% of the school year, skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic in line with national trends, according to a new report by the Helios Education Foundation in partnership with WestEd.
It looked at K-8th grade students in Arizona and found up to 14% of students were chronically absent before the pandemic. That spiked to 22% — or nearly one in five – in 2021.
The number of Arizona students missing school has skyrocketed over the last few years. The COVID pandemic isn’t the only reason.
“I think we have to both think about what are the barriers that keep kids from getting to school and what is it that pulls kids to be in school?” Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit trying to improve school attendance, said.
She said some of the barriers are chronic illness, lack of transportation and unstable housing. What goes on in school can also play a role, including bullying and feeling embarrassed about being behind academically.
Avondale Elementary School District Superintendent Betsy Hargrove was in disbelief when data showed her district had a problem with students missing too much school.
“It’s not about missing a day of school. It is truly about missing 18+ days excused or unexcused over the course of a year,” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
About one in five students in her district were considered chronically absent, meaning they were missing 10% or more of the school year. Determined to change that, the district began using a three-tiered system created by Attendance Works, a nonprofit trying to improve school attendance.
The rate of students missing too many school days spiked following the pandemic in Arizona, and now schools are on the hunt for solutions.
But experts warn it will take some time to see improvements.
“The problem took a long time to get here,” said Terri Clark, state literacy director with Read On Arizona, which advocates for early literacy in the state. “It has only gotten worse, so the solution is not going to happen overnight.”