Chronic absenteeism is on the rise among Idaho students

Updated 6/6 with information about Pocatello/Chubbuck’s 21-22 chronic absenteeism rate. 

More and more Idaho students are habitually missing class, according to data EdNews acquired from the State Department of Education via a public records request. 

Last school year, more than 60,000 Idaho students (or 21%) were chronically absent — and that’s up from 15% in the 2020-2021 school year, when many schools resorted to remote or hybrid learning due to the pandemic. 

Those 60,000 students missed 10% or more of the school year, according to the SDE’s definition. On average, most Idaho students attend about 160 days of school each year, so that equates to about 16 days or more of missed classes.  

And those days matter. Chronic absenteeism “can translate into students having difficulty learning to read by the third grade, achieving in middle school, and graduating from high school,” according to research gathered by Attendance Works, a national nonprofit. 

The escalating numbers of frequently-absent students are pervasive in Idaho. 

In the state’s largest districts, nearly all saw jumps in chronic absenteeism. In Nampa and West Ada, the percentage of habitually absent students almost doubled. 

But the highest rates of chronic absenteeism are in rural schools, and/or those serving at-risk students. 

Even so, students from nearly all demographic subgroups are increasingly missing significant chunks of the school year.  

Use the SDE’s report card tool to look up chronic absenteeism rates at your school or district. Type in the school or district name, then click on non-academic indicators, then chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism is a relatively new metric; the SDE didn’t start collecting data on it until 2020-2021. Prior to that, it was difficult to gauge how many students missed school often. 

That’s partly because a more well-known attendance metric — average daily attendance — can obscure those who are frequently absent. 

For example, a school might have 95% average daily attendance, but have 20% of its students chronically absent. That’s because those students are likely not all absent on the same day. 

Another nuance: If a school has 95% average daily attendance, are the remaining 5% primarily the same students? If so, their learning is at risk. 

Absenteeism has been in the spotlight recently as students, families, and educators work to rebound from the pandemic, which raised questions about where and how students learn best, especially when technology and health are factored in. 

Plus, education leaders are preparing for a post-pandemic return to attendance-based funding. Some worry the change could spell financial hardship if student attendance doesn’t pick up. Others say tying funding to attendance is necessary to incentivize school leaders to get kids in desks. 

At the heart of the conversation: students who aren’t in class. Here’s what the data says about the state’s most absent learners. 

Chronic absenteeism climbed in Idaho’s largest school districts

Chronic absenteeism spiked in nearly all of the state’s largest districts last school year. More than a quarter of students were chronically absent in West Ada, Boise, Nampa, and Vallivue. And frequent absences nearly doubled in West Ada and Nampa. 

The chart below shows the chronic absenteeism rates from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022. When those percentages increased, numbers are in red.

District 20-21: % of students chronically absent 21-22: % of students chronically absent Increase in absenteeism
West Ada 13.5 26 +12.5
Boise 18 30 +12
Bonneville 13.8 19 +5.2
Nampa 15.8 31 +15.2
Pocatello/Chubbuck 35 25 NA
Idaho Falls 18.7 20 +1.3
Coeur d’Alene 13.3 14 +.7
Vallivue 32.1 34 +1.9
Twin Falls  19.4 25 +5.6
Oneida 2 3 +1

The highest rates of chronic absenteeism are at rural schools and/or those that serve at-risk students

Below is a list of all the Idaho districts and charters where about one-third of students or more were chronically absent in the 2021-2022 school year. 

Notably, most of them are rural and/or serve at-risk students. For example, Cardinal Academy serves pregnant and parenting teens. In Wilder, 70% of students are low-income; 61% are Hispanic; and 21% are English language learners. And Lapwai and Plummer-Worley are both located on reservations, and serve large Indigenous populations (92% and 46% respectively). 

According to Attendance Works, children living in poverty and those from communities of color are more likely to be frequently absent. 

School District/Charter  % of all students who were chronically absent in 21-22
Cardinal Academy 77
Wilder 53
Plummer-Worley Joint 51
Lapwai 49
Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency 48
The Village Charter School 42
Salmon River Joint 41
Basin  40
Alturas Prep 40
Caldwell 39
Garden Valley 38
Kamiah 37
Horseshoe Bend 36
Monticello Montessori 36
Marsing 35
Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center 35
Vallivue 34
Peace Valley Charter 34
Richfield 34
Minidoka Joint 33
Mosaics Public 33

Students across demographics are increasingly — and frequently — absent

Nearly all student subgroups are missing school more often, though some more than others.

Those experiencing homelessness had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism — 41% — last school year. 

That squares with national trends. In 2020-2021, 41.9% of students experiencing homelessness were chronically absent — more than twice the rate of housed students (20.3%). That’s according to SchoolHouse Connection, a national advocacy organization addressing child, youth, and family homelessness. 

“This trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has further deepened the inequities faced by homeless students,” Leconte Lee, communications director for the organization, said in an email. “Yet homelessness is often overlooked in efforts to re-engage students and increase regular school attendance.”

That’s because homelessness is often hidden and hard to identify, Lee wrote. 

In Idaho, migrant students, those with disabilities, and American Indians had the next highest rates of chronic absenteeism (30% or more). 

And the groups with the greatest increases of absenteeism from 2020-2021 to last school year were migrant students, multiracial students, and those with disabilities. All saw jumps in chronic absenteeism of 7% or more. 

The chart below shows the chronic absenteeism rates from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022. When those percentages increased, numbers are in red.

Demographic group 20-21: % of students chronically absent 21-22: % of students chronically absent Increase in absenteeism
All 15.1 21 +5.9
American Indian 32.8 31 NA
Asian 9.2 14 +4.8
Black 22.1 22 NA
Economically disadvantaged 22.3 29 +6.7
English language learner 22.4 29 +6.6
In foster care 24.2 25 +.8
Hawaiian Pacific Islander 26.4 29 +2.6
Hispanic 21.9 28 +6.1
Experiencing homelessness 36.3 41 +4.7
Migrant 25.9 33 +7.1
Military connected 10.1 17 +6.9
Multiracial 16.8 24 +7.2
White 13 18 +5
With disabilities 22.9 30 +7.1

Incentives, communication, and assistance help combat chronic absenteeism

Some districts ramped up efforts to get kids in class this school year. 

Caldwell School District hosted an attendance awareness month to spread the message that ‘every day matters’. Jerome Middle School also adopted an attendance slogan: ‘Attend today, achieve tomorrow.’ 

And districts like Nampa and Bonneville are moving away from punishment-based attendance initiatives. Instead, they’re focusing on increased communication and relationship-building. 

And that’s the kind of approach Attendance Works advocates for — removing barriers to attendance rather than casting blame on parents or students. 

“The way you have to solve (chronic absenteeism) is by understanding why kids miss in the first place,” Hedy Chang, founder and executive director of Attendance Works, told EdNews in October. “…There are a lot of reasons kids can miss school that aren’t a matter of their own control.”

For at-risk students, like those experiencing homelessness, removing barriers might mean providing transportation, conducting home visits, providing families with cell phones or minutes, or connecting families with housing agencies, Lee said. 

Chronic absenteeism data for the 2022-2023 school year should become available this fall.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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