Nearly half of Chicago Public Schools students chronically absent in 2022

Nearly half of Chicago Public Schools students chronically absent in 2022

Chronic absenteeism rates are higher in Chicago than statewide, with 49% of low-income Chicago students missing at least 10% of their days in school. That rate has nearly doubled since the pandemic.

Chronic absenteeism in Chicago Public Schools is on the rise: nearly 45% in 2022, according to state data. That compares to a statewide rate of 30%.

The rate is even higher among Chicago’s low-income students, with 49% missing at least 10% of their schooling, according to Illinois State Board of Education data.

The pandemic and 17 months out of the classroom appear to have seriously aggravated the problem.

Absenteeism in CPS was 24% for all students and just over 25% for low-income students in 2019. That was the final full school year before the pandemic shut down in-person learning in CPS schools.

But those numbers may not show the severity of the absentee issue in CPS. A recent report by the Chicago Board of Education Inspector General shows administrators in CPS may have misreported absent students as transfers, boosting attendance rates and other key metrics.

Chronic absenteeism among Chicago’s low-income students

The Board of Education reported 49% of low-income students in Chicago Public Schools were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year. Chronic absenteeism is determined by missing 10% or more of school days per year either with or without a valid excuse. That means nearly half of Chicago students from low-income families missed 18 or more days of school.

Research shows frequent absences from school place children and adolescents at a higher risk of poor outcomes, such as dropping out of school and lower academic achievement. Experts also find lower socioeconomic status is associated with higher levels of absenteeism.

Amid high rates of absenteeism, students from low-income families in CPS are struggling to meet proficiency in core subjects. Just 14% of 3rd through 8th grade students from low-income families met proficiency standards in reading and 9% in math this spring. Compared to students who are not from low-income families, low-income students were 28 percentage points less likely to score as proficient in reading and 27 percentage points less likely in math.

Missing school certainly can’t help.

It may be worse than the numbers show

While CPS absenteeism rates are already high, the data may be worse than reported because of miscoding of students as transfers rather than truant.

The CPS Inspector General’s 2022 annual report released in early January 2023 questioned the reliability of CPS’s transfer and dropout data, which is used to calculate metrics such as attendance rates. The investigation found “a districtwide problem of schools failing to document transfers and lost children as required by law and CPS policy.”

This misreporting of students is not new to CPS. The Office of the Inspector General has investigated and reported on this kind of misconduct five times since 2014, according to the report.

The report concludes the consequence of this misreporting is twofold: it causes significant negative effects on vulnerable students and produces unreliable CPS metrics.

CPS has procedures in place to locate and reengage missing students. Students whose absenteeism is hidden by administrators do not receive those interventions and the reengagement assistance they need and would otherwise have received if they were properly reported.

The district’s key metrics, such as attendance and graduation rates, may be skewed by misreporting.

CPS student attendance isn’t helped by the frequent Chicago Teachers Union walkouts

The militant bargaining tactics used too often by Chicago Teachers Union leaders to get their demands met have not been in the best interests of CPS students and families. They have left district students missing even more days of classroom instruction. CTU has walked out on students five times since 2012, with students missing at least 24 days of school as a result.

It’s probably hard for students to take school seriously when CTU walks out at a moment’s notice.

CPS is committed to improving student attendance

The Illinois Policy Institute contacted CPS for comment about the district’s low rates of absenteeism.

The district responded that it is committed to improving and expanding methods which work to help students return and stay in the classroom. CPS has made additional investments during the 2022-2023 school year since COVID-19 impacted student attendance in districts across the country. Investments include targeted interventions, additional systems of support, mental health services and other support services.

See the entire response from Chicago Public Schools about chronic absenteeism.

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