Klamath County School District’s rate of chronically absent students is lower than the rate for Oregon as a whole.
Information released by the Oregon Department of Education on Thursday, Oct. 19, listed the district’s chronic absenteeism rate at 15.3 percent. That is 4.4 percentage points lower than the statewide rate of 19.7 percent.
“It’s always great when you’re performing better than the state average,” said Superintendent Greg Thede. “But there’s still work to do. We’d like the chronically absent rate under 10 percent.”
Chronic absenteeism is a measure of the percentage of students who miss 10 percent or more of each school year. New this year is label “regular attenders.” Those are students who attend 90 percent of the school year or more. The chronically absent percent and the regular attender rate add up to 100 percent of the students at a school or district. For the district, 84.7 percent of students were regular attenders, compared to 80.3 percent statewide.
Measuring chronically absent and regular attenders is new for Oregon, and school- and district level records are only available for the last three years. Though KCSD’s 15.3 percent is lower than the state average, it is higher than the ratein 2014-15 school year (13.1 percent) and lower than the 2015-16 school year (16.4 percent).
Chronically absent rates and regular attender rates are a different measure than attendance percentages. Attendance measures how many students are attending each day. Chronically absent identifies the students who miss more school on a regular basis.
Some schools in the KCSD showed high attendance rates but low regular attender rates, or high chronic absenteeism rates.
“That shows in some cases a small percentage of kids are missing the bulk of the days,” Thede said.
Some schools had very low chronic absenteeism rates, such as those in the Henley Complex. Henley Elementary had the lowest rate, at 6.2 percent. That means 93.8 percent of its students came to class 90 percent or more of the 2016-17 school year.
“We work to ensure Henley is a place where students are safe, comfortable and want to be,” said Henley Elementary Principal Janell Preston.
A few years ago, when numbers were not as positive, Preston said Henley Elementary started recognizing students with perfect attendance every six weeks. Now it also watches attendance closely and contacts families regularly. The school works with families to explain the laws involved and the importance of being at school.
Malin Elementary, Brixner Junior High, Henley High School and Henley Middle School had regular attendance rates at or over 90 percent, or chronic absentee rate at or under 10 percent.
Merrill Elementary, Keno Elementary, Peterson Elementary, Mazama High School, Stearns Elementary, Shasta Elementary, Lost River Jr./Sr. High School and Ferguson Elementary had chronically absent rates under the state’s rate and under 20 percent.
Chiloquin elementary and high school, Bonanza elementary and high school and Gilchrist elementary and high school all had chronically absent rates over 20 percent.
Thede agreed there is a trend. These are the most rural of the district’s schools, including Gilchrist, which is the most isolated at the far northern end of Klamath County.
High poverty, transportation and health are all factors in students missing school, said Gilchrist Principal Steve Prock. The school also is working to show parents and families how important it is for students to be at school every day.
To help improve the regular attender rate, Gilchrist has an attendance committee made up of teachers, administrators and a school counselor, conducts home visits when parents do not respond to calls or letters and engages students and families in attendance contracts.
“Attendance contracts identify barriers that are preventing students from attending school,” Prock said, “and then making short terms goals and strategies in hope of improving attendance and motivation with rewards for improved attendance.”
Another factor may have been weather. The 2016-17 school year had an unusually large amount of snowstorms and snow, including a storm which closed schools district-wide on Jan. 4.
At Gilchrist snow on the school’s roof stopped classes for 7 ½ days, leading to making up time later in the school year.
“Our weather was definitely a factor last winter,” Prock said. “Many families with fragile home environments could not get out of their driveways even when we were having school.”