WASHINGTON — The government is out with discouraging figures on how many students are habitually missing school — and an AP analysis finds the problem is particularly acute in the nation’s capital, where nearly one-third of students were absent 15 days or more in a single school year.
Washington state and Alaska weren’t that far behind, with absentee rates hovering around a quarter of students with that level of absences.
Florida had the lowest rate of absences: 4.5 percent of students in the state were chronically missing school in the 2013-2014 school year.
The national average in the 2013-2014 school year was 13 percent, more than 6.5 million students, a number that Bob Balfanz, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Everyone Graduates Center, called disturbing.
“If you’re not there, you don’t learn, and then you fall behind, you don’t pass your classes, you don’t get the credits in high school and that’s what leads to dropping out,” Balfanz said in an interview.
Tuesday’s report marked the first release of chronic absentee figures from the department.
According to AP’s analysis, girls were just as likely as boys to habitually miss school. Nearly 22 percent of all American Indian students were reported as regularly absent, followed by Native Hawaiians at 21 percent and black students at 17 percent. Hispanic and white students were close to the national average of 13 percent.
Of the 100 largest school districts by enrollment, the Detroit City School District had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism. Nearly 58 percent of students were chronically absent in the 2013-2014 school year.
Students are regularly missing school for lots of reasons, Balfanz says. Many are poor and could be staying home to care for a sibling or helping with elder care. Others are avoiding school because they’re being bullied or they worry it’s not safe. And then, there are some students who simply skip school.
Schools should be creating welcoming environments to make students feel wanted each day, Balfanz says. They also need to build relationships with the kids who are regularly absent to figure out what’s keeping them away, he said.
The Obama administration began a program last fall called Every Student, Every Day. It partners with states and local groups in 30 communities to identify mentors to help habitually absent kids get back on track.
Chronic absenteeism is one of several topics covered in the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection, a biannual survey of all public schools in the country, covering over 95,000 schools and 50 million students. It also looked at school discipline and high-rigor course offerings.