Does Maryland really have the highest rate of chronically absent students in the U.S.?

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

A new report ranks Maryland as having the highest rate of chronic student absence in the nation.

But is it right? Could 29 percent of Maryland students have missed 10 percent of school days, as reported by Attendance Works? The national rate is 15.5 percent.

The recently released report is based on 2015-2016 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which collects chronic absentee numbers from individual school districts, not the state.

One figure that stood out was in Prince George’s County, where the report showed that 81.7 percent of students were chronically absent.

Attendance Works’ own associate director for policy, Sue Fothergill, has a hard time believing that percentage.

“I think the Prince George’s County data is wrong,” said Fothergill, who once worked for the Family League of Baltimore as the director of attendance.

The latest state statistics say only 22 percent of Prince George’s students were chronically absent in the 2016-2017 school year, while in Baltimore City 37 percent of students were chronically absent.

Prince George’s County officials say they believe the accurate figure for the 2015-2106 school year is 21.3 percent.

Attendance Works, a nonprofit that works to reduce chronic absence across the nation, said it will check the data and update the report. Fothergill said Attendance Works relied on school systems to deliver accurate information to the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Prince George’s County had not reported any chronic absences in a previous school year, so an increase in the state’s rate didn’t raise a red flag because data had been missing previously, Fothergill said.

Because Prince George’s County is one of the state’s largest school systems, an incorrect report of its chronic absences could change the overall state number.

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

The rate is critical to schools and school systems because, beginning this year, chronic absences will be used to judge a school’s success. The state is expected to release a five-star ranking of schools in December based on a number of factors, including test scores. Chronic absenteeism rates will be worth 15 points out of 100 points in determining a school’s rank.

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