Mississippi public schools see highest-yet chronic absenteeism

Published 3:36 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has released the most recent school and district chronic absence data, which shows that 28% of Mississippi students were absent 18 days or more during the 2021-22 school year.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% (18 days) of the school year for any reason, which includes excused and unexcused absences and suspensions. Chronic absence differs from Average Daily Attendance (ADA), which is the average number of enrolled students who attend school each day. A school’s ADA often masks issues surrounding the number of students who are chronically absent.

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During the 2021-22 school year, 128,275 Mississippi public school students were chronically absent, which is an increase of 33,186 students from 2020-21. The rates increased steadily for all K-12 grades in 2021-22. The chronic absenteeism rate in K-5 elementary schools was highest for kindergarten at 28.4%. The chronic absenteeism rate in middle school was highest in grade 8 at 29.6% and highest in high school in grade 12 at 45.3%.

MDE began reporting chronic absence data in 2016, and the 28% overall rate is the highest to date. While it is important to identify and mitigate all factors that led to excessive absences, the COVID-19 pandemic did contribute to the increased statewide and national rates.

Chronically absent students are more likely to fall behind academically and less likely to graduate from high school. Addressing chronic absenteeism and developing good attendance habits will take the collective effort of schools, attendance officers, families and communities.

The MDE will relaunch a statewide attendance awareness campaign in June. The campaign is designed to challenge students and school districts to reduce individual absences to no more than five absences in a school year and was initially launched in September 2018. Mississippi’s campaign is part of a national movement to reduce chronic absenteeism. Before the pandemic, Mississippi’s chronic absenteeism rate fell to 13% in 2018-19.

“Higher than normal chronic absenteeism numbers are not unique to Mississippi following the pandemic,” said Dr. Robert Taylor, state superintendent of education. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that MDE and all educational stakeholders develop and implement strategies to get students back in school and on track to achieve academic and career success.”

Area schools

The district with the lowest chronic absenteeism rate was Franklin County Schools, at 9.65%. The Amite and McComb School Districts were in the top 10 of highest chronic absenteeism rates, at 46.69% and 49.09%, respectively.

The Brookhaven School District was at 24.05% and the Lincoln County School District had a 19.47% rate.

Brookhaven Schools, 673 students chronically absent from 2,798 students (24.05%)

• Alexander Jr. High, 127/466 (27.25%)

• Brookhaven Elementary, 91/390 (23.33%)

• Brookhaven High, 229/817 (28.03%)

• Lipsey, 92/382 (24.08%)

• Mamie Martin Elementary, 135/744 (18.15%)

Brookhaven Superintendent Rod Henderson said in the few years the state has measured chronic absenteeism, the city school district’s numbers have remained “about the same.”

“Those numbers can be reflective of the flu. We had a large number of kids out with the flu, and those numbers are still affected by COVID,” Henderson said. “Though it has been lower. It could be a lot better. I would like to see it under 20%, or really in single digits, if I had my way. But we have to set attainable goals.”

Henderson said the district has a three-pronged approach to address the issue.

“We meet with the students about the importance of everyday attendance, then speak with parents by phone and home visits via community liaison Keith Robinson.”

Henderson also visits parents, along with school principals, assistant principals and counselors.

“But at the end of the day, we have to have the cooperation of the parents, because we do have some situations where the parents are not placing an emphasis on the importance of being there. That child needs to be there. I also put out memos to our parents and how it affects us attendance-wise and how it affects the child intellectually, etc., so we’re pretty aggressive with it.”

State only began looking at CA around 2016, so we’re about the same, though it has been lower. It could be a lot better. I would like to see it under 20%, but in single digits if I had my way, have to set goals in order to attain.

Lincoln, 569/2,923 (19.47%)

• Bogue Chitto, 164/730 (22.47%)

• Enterprise, 158/755 (20.93%)

• Loyd Star, 185/800 (23.13%)

• West Lincoln, 74/665 (11.13%)

David Martin is superintendent of Lincoln County School District. Recent bouts of flu and COVID have made a big difference in keeping students out of school, he said, agreeing with Henderson.

“Some kids had five days or more off at one time,” Martin said. “It obviously disrupts instruction. And you can’t stop classes for everyone else so it makes it a struggle to catch that student up.”

Martin said the district has offered small incentives to encourage attendance, like field trips, extra snacks, more time at breaks or other rewards.

“That has worked some,” he said. “For the past two years, we did not have an attendance officer assigned to us. Those are assigned by MDE. We did fill that position in January, so we hope that will help.”

But Martin sees the biggest factor to improve attendance as routine.

“Just getting people back in the routine of coming to school and staying the whole day,” he said. “Yes, you can afford to miss a little time here and there, but over time it adds up.”

To see Mississippi’s full 2021-22 report, go to mdek12.org/OPR/Reporting/Reports.