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Maryland's rate of student chronic absence isn't as bad as first reported

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

It turns out that Maryland doesn’t have the highest rate of chronic student absence in the nation, as Attendance Works reported last summer.

Its report was reissued this week after the authors revised it to reflect updated Prince George’s County data. Maryland now has a 20.8 percent rate of chronic absence and is ranked 10th worst in the country.

The error was first reported by The Baltimore Sun in September in an article that noted it was unlikely that 80 percent of Prince George’s County’s students were absent for 10 percent or more of the total school days in the 2015-2016 school year.

Attendance Works, a national group that aims to reduce student absenteeism, based the report on information school systems sent to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“The district had made an honest mistake and it was not an attempt to manipulate the statistics. In fact, the district-wide rate of chronic absence for Prince George’s County was approximately 29 percent,” the authors of the Attendance Works report said in a statement.

The change in the reporting also had an impact on the overall national rate for chronic absence for African-American students, which is 19.3 percent.

A large percentage of Prince George’s County’s student population is black.

For the 2016-2017 school year, the Maryland Department of Education reported the state’s chronic absence rate at 18 percent.

"While we're pleased that this error has been corrected, we are fully aware of the need for better school attendance,” Maryland State School Superintendent Karen Salmon said in a statement. Reducing chronic absenteeism is part of the state’s accountability plan required under federal law, she said, and “we are partnering with Attendance Works in new efforts to strengthen student attendance."

The rate is critical to schools and school systems because the chronic absence rate is being used as one factor to judge a school’s success.

For the first time this year, the state introduced a star rating system for schools in which the rate of student attendance is worth up to 15 points out of 100 points in determining a school’s rank.

The costs of chronic absenteeism have been substantiated in research. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to be proficient readers by third grade. By sixth grade, those who miss more than 10 percent of school are more likely to drop out altogether.

The emphasis on student attendance at the national level — states are now required under federal law to report these chronic absence rates — and the state level is likely to put more pressure on schools and school systems to accurately report rates annually.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lizbowie

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