Maine’s soaring rate of chronic absenteeism points to the need for early and individualized intervention.
Butch Pratt, longtime truancy officer for the Lewiston school district, writes down his number and a note to leave on the door of an apartment where he hoped to discuss a student’s absenteeism.
Sixteen percent of Maine students - more than 29,000 - miss more than 10 percent of the school year, new state statistics show.
A kid’s future is never set in stone.
But for students who miss a lot of school, it’s at least written in pen.
More than any other single indicator, regular absences are a sign of what’s to come. Kids who are chronically absent - who miss more than 10 percent of the school year - are far less likely to graduate than their peers. And it’s not because they don’t want to learn or can’t handle the coursework. There’s almost always something else going on, and those problems have to be addressed to save a student from a life of underachievement.
According to new data from the state Department of Education, 16 percent of Maine students - more than 29,000 - are chronically absent.
It is a habit that grabs on early and follows students through their academic career.
Elementary school students who miss too much school are far less likely to read at grade level by fourth grade, and thus four times more likely to drop out before graduation than are their peers who attend school regularly.
Absenteeism in the sixth grade is the strongest hint at that level that a student will fail to graduate; by eighth grade, it’s a better indicator of freshman achievement than test scores.
For first-year high school students, missed days are a better sign of who will graduate than grade point average or course failures.
That suggests that there are larger forces at play than academics.
Poverty is one, as students from low-income families struggle with unstable living situations and unreliable transportation. Often, there are people with serious health issues at home.
For young students, parents may not see the importance of being in school every day, not when compared to the struggles of clothing and feeding them.
There are also students for whom school is a threatening place, because of bullying or social anxiety, or because of a bad experience with a teacher or staff member.