NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Surrounded by students with great or perfect attendance, state leaders announced new efforts and incentives to address chronic absenteeism in Rhode Island public schools.
Roughly 46,000 public school students in the state were chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year, meaning they missed at least 10% of school days, according to a recent report by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.
That means about one out of every three students missed at least 18 days of school last year, which represents a record high.
The report also found the number of elementary school students who missed at least 18 days more than doubled, from just 13% before the pandemic to 31% in 2022.
“It has an impact on the students learning. It has an impact on the ability of what the teacher can do in the classroom,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said Thursday.
As part of a new campaign called “Attendance Matters RI,” the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) is making more absenteeism data available to the public to reinforce the impacts of poor attendance on education and the community.
“It cannot be left to the superintendents, principals, and teachers. It has to be an all-state approach,” Infante-Green added.
Part of the initiative calls on small businesses to get involved. They could offer to throw block parties or provide discounts to students to reward good attendance.
RIDE created and updated several community dashboards, which show not just where students go to school, but also absentee rates at the neighborhood level and how they compare to statewide test scores.
“If the municipality wants to know the areas where students come from where there’s chronic absenteeism, they will know. You will know,” Infante-Green said. “If there is an organization, if there is a church in that community, look at the data. Let’s talk about it.”
Another dashboard shows how many students are on track to be chronically absent compared to this time last school year.
Beginning this month, Gov. Dan McKee’s office and RIDE will highlight the top elementary, middle and high schools with the highest weekly attendance rates. A partnership with the Boston Globe will also showcase high school students with perfect attendance each quarter.
Infante-Green said the state also convened a Chronic Absenteeism Working Group, which includes stakeholders from education, health, government, business, law enforcement, and community organizations. The first meeting will be held later this month.