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Indiana Public Media on 12/18/2023 by Casey Smith
Indiana lawmakers are adamant that moving bills to help improve student literacy and bolster career readiness is high-priority in the upcoming legislative session. But their efforts could end up fruitless if the state can’t solve another issue plaguing schools: Hoosier kids aren’t showing up to the classroom.
The latest Indiana data shows that about 40% of students statewide missed 10 or more school days last year, and nearly one in five were “chronically absent” for at least 18 days.
Student absences have been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indiana and across the nation. Although Indiana’s latest numbers show slight improvements, absentee rates during the 2022-23 school year were still 8% higher than before the pandemic.
Educators around the state say the reasons for absences vary, but family challenges some students face at home, along with hard-to-break tendencies to keep kids home when even mildly unwell — a habit borne out of the pandemic — are key factors. And schools are getting creative to try to combat the growing problem.
Education experts note that being absent as few as three days out of the school year affects test scores and overall academic performance. Getting to school every day also helps kids develop a routine and increases their influential engagement time with adults.
The student demographic groups with the largest gaps in state language arts and math testing since the pandemic are more likely to be chronically absent.
To that end, Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, along with Republican state legislative leaders, have said that high rates of absenteeism are likely contributing to the state’s dismal literacy rates. One in five third-graders currently lacks foundational reading skills, which Jenner and others are calling “a crisis.”