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Study finds Michigan schools are seeing the largest national decrease in student absences

top back of a school bus
Nick Quan

Research from FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy, shows the percentage of chronically absent students in Michigan fell by nearly eight percent during the 2022-23 academic year, outpacing other states in returning students to classrooms.

Chronic absenteeism is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as being a rate of attendance in which students are absent 10% or more of the school year, this translates to roughly 18 days.

The independent study tracked rates of chronic absences from the school year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and compared them with rates from the following two years.

Chronic absenteeism in Michigan dropped from 38.5% in the 2021-22 school year to 30.8% the following year. Researchers say the state's absentee rate is still far higher than it was in 2018, when it was 20%, and existing learning gaps continue to be exacerbated from the pandemic.

"Chronic absenteeism often signals that students are experiencing untreated health needs, transportation problems, mental health issues, or other significant challenges," said the FutureEd analysis. "When many students attend school irregularly, teachers can't move through the curriculum at their usual pace, which hurts the academic progress of students who are attending regularly as well as absentees."

Delsa Chapman, a deputy superintendent with the Michigan Department of Education, says economically disadvantaged students are often the most affected by missing school.

"There are students, unfortunately, that live in homeless situations, students that are part of foster care," Chapman said. "There's a barrage of elements that could cause the student to be chronically absent."

Chapman said the recent rise in attendance is due to school districts implementing the Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS), part of Michigan's Top 10 Strategic Education Plan.

"The diligence of our local education agencies or our local school districts definitely had a hand in that. Our local leaders, our educators, and our communities did a lot with direct outreach by text, phone calls, door-to-door visits," Chapman said. "There also has been extensive and intentional measures around attendance campaigns."

While Michigan has not yet released data on the 2023-24 school year, Chapman said the EWIMS program helps districts address poor attendance rates early on.

According to FutureEd's research, the majority of "states and districts have traditionally gathered and released rated of chronic absence after the school year has ended. The lack of real-time data may be hurting efforts to address the absenteeism problem."

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