Report: 19% of poor K-3 students missed at least 18 days of school last year

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly one in five low-income Rhode Island students in grades K-3 were chronically absent from school last year, a startling trend that has been linked to poor performance in later grades, according to a new policy brief released Monday by nonprofit Rhode Island Kids Count.

The new analysis shows 19% of low-income students in those early grades missed at least 18 days of school during the 2013-14 school year, while just 5% of higher-income K-3 students missed that much time.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of the school year; in Rhode Island that means a student would have to be absent at 18 days to fit the label. The national average for chronic absenteeism is 10%, according to a study released in 2012 by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“Chronic absenteeism is a multifaceted issue that affects children in every city and town in Rhode Island,” Kids Count executive director Elizabeth Burke Bryant said in a prepared statement. “Leaders and parents need to work together at the state and community level to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism, while paying particular attention to low-income children.”

State policy makers are scheduled to discuss the new findings at a 12 p.m. event Monday at the Kids Count office in downtown Providence. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is among the invitees expected to speak at the event.

Roughly 16% of all state kindergarten students were considered chronically absent last year, compared with 12% of 1st graders, 10% of 2nd graders and 10% of third graders. The report found that students who were chronically absent in kindergarten during the 2004-05 school year had lower levels of achievement in math and reading and were twice as likely to be held back in school.

While research has long showed a link between absenteeism and poor student performance, school districts across the country have traditionally measured the average daily attendance in schools rather than the attendance trends of individual students. Rhode Island was among the first states to begin measuring chronic absenteeism.

The Kids Count brief came on the heels of a national report that linked absenteeism with poor results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the exam known in education circles as the nation’s report card. The NAEP measures math and reading performance for a sample of 4th and 8th grade students in every state.

Among Rhode Island 4th graders, students who missed at least three days of school the month before they took the reading section of the exam in 2013 scored 16 points lower than students who missed zero days; the same group scored 20 points lower on the math section of the test. For 8th grade students, those missing at least three days scored 17 points lower on the reading exam and 26 points lower on the math section, both the largest gaps in the country.

Correction: The original headline for this report incorrectly stated 19% of all K-3 students were chronically absent last year.

Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan


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