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Chronic Absenteeism in Schools: Top Stories in RI in 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012


With the education reform debate raging across the country, there is one thing all sides agree on: Students can’t learn if they’re not in school.

That’s why readers were shocked to learn that during the 2010/11 school year, 37 percent of Providence students missed at least 18 days of school, making them “chronically absent.” Later in the year, GoLocalProv reported that during the 2011/12 school year, 32.4 percent we absent at least 18 days.

Part of the reason the school district hasn’t addressed the problem, school officials say, is that it wasn’t tracking chronic absenteeism until the last two years. The original data was compiled by Hedy Chang, the director of a California-based policy group called Attendance Works, which tracks absenteeism in cities across the country.

Chang said Providence isn’t the only community around the country that hasn’t tracked students who consistently miss school, but acknowledged that the city’s rate is especially high. Chang said the national rate for chronic absenteeism in the early grades was about ten percent before the recession. In Providence, 32 percent of kindergartners missed at least 18 days last year.

“It's certainly on the high end, but we don't have all the numbers,” Chang said earlier this year. “There are other communities, particular urban areas, with similar levels.”

In Providence, Stephanie Geller, a policy analyst for Rhode Island Kids Count, told GoLocalProv that leaders are making strides to address the city’s chronic absence problems. March, the school district and principals held a strategy session to discuss ways to combat absenteeism.

“As part of this citywide campaign to increase the percentage of Providence children reading proficiently by the end of third grade, the campaign will strive to reduce the chronic early absence rate or rate of kindergarten through 3rd graders who miss 18 or more days of school, which represents 10% of the school year, by 5% by 2017,” Geller said.

It’s all part of the Mayor’s strategy to increase early reading proficiency, according to Geller. At some “full-service community schools,” such as Bailey Elementary School, there is already an effort being made to reduce chronic early absence rates. Geller said the Mayor is hoping to replicate those efforts throughout the district.


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