New Study Reveals High Rates of Chronic Absenteeism Among Alaska Students

In the year 2022, Alaska had a lower percentage of chronically absent students compared to only one state, Arizona. According to a national nonprofit, more than 45% of students in Alaska missed enough school to be academically at-risk.

This means that almost half of the students in Alaska missed at least 10% of the school year, as indicated by the most recent available data. During a presentation to the Senate Education Committee, Hedy Chang, the executive director of Attendance Matters, stated that nationwide, chronic absenteeism rates have doubled since the pandemic, and Alaska is no exception.

Chang highlighted the importance of recognizing chronic absence and ensuring good attendance for students because it ultimately affects their educational outcomes.

According to Attendance Works, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of school days for any reason.

Attendance Matters’ data revealed that the increase in chronic absence in Alaska coincided with a decline in the state’s scores on national standardized tests. Chang mentioned that around 25% of this decline can be attributed to attendance issues.

The data also showed that second graders who were chronically absent had a lower likelihood of reading at grade level compared to their peers who had good attendance. Chang emphasized that the consequences of chronic absenteeism can persist and manifest as poor performance in middle school and an increased risk of high school dropout.

Before the pandemic, almost half of Alaska’s schools experienced “extreme chronic absence,” where 30% or more students were chronically absent. In the 2021-2022 school year, 86% of Alaska schools reported extreme chronic absenteeism.

Chang explained that consistent school attendance helps establish routine, reduces stress, creates a sense of security, and increases student engagement. It is not only about instruction but also about building relationships, learning from peers and adults, and accessing resources like mental health support, meals, tutoring, mentoring, technology, and extracurricular activities.

Chang pointed out underlying factors contributing to absenteeism, including trauma, housing or food insecurity, lack of culturally responsive education, and limited meaningful relationships with adults in school, especially considering staff shortages.

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, expressed a desire for guidance from the Department of Education and Early Development on policy approaches to address this impactful issue. Tobin highlighted culturally relevant education, tribal compacting, and decolonizing education as potential solutions to address the diverse learning and knowing styles in Alaska’s communities.

Tobin mentioned being surprised by the extent to which absenteeism can affect reading outcomes, which the legislators aimed to improve with the passage of the Alaska Reads Act in 2022.

She emphasized the importance of the Alaska Reads Act in ensuring every child’s right to learn to read and highlighted the need for ongoing attention to policy implementation.

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