Pine Belt chronic absenteeism runs gamut

By BUSTER WOLFE,

School districts in the Pine Belt had some of the highest and lowest occurrences of chronic absenteeism in the state during the 2016-17 school year, according to data released last week by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Chronic absenteeism is determined when students were absent 10 percent or more during the 2016-17 school year, which includes excused and unexcused absences and suspensions. For a 180-day school year, the number amounts to 18 absences.

The state average for chronic absenteeism is 14.2 percent. The rate is high in kindergarten, but slows down in elementary school. The absenteeism increases through middle and high school. The highest average is 30.1 percent in 12th grade.

The Lamar County School District has the lowest chronic absenteeism in the Pine Belt at 9.25 percent, followed by Petal School District at 10.6 percent. Next was Forrest County School District at 14.31 percent, and then Hattiesburg Public School District at 17.79 percent. Forrest County Agricultural High School had the highest rate in the state with 26.43 percent, while Lumberton Public School District’s 159 of its 641 students were chronically absent, resulting in 24.8 percent.

“There is a growing body of evidence that shows how chronic absence has a negative impact on student achievement,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Children who are not in school are not learning.”

Chronic absence differs from average daily attendance, which is the average number of enrolled students who attend school each day. A school’s ADA does not reveal how many students are chronically absent. A 2016 Mississippi KIDS COUNT analysis found that among Mississippi school districts with an ADA of 95 percent or higher, more than half had chronic absence rates greater than 10 percent.

High schools with the highest rates are Vicksburg High School (62.2 percent) in the Vicksburg-Warren School District, and Jackson Public School District schools Wingfield High School (47.5 percent) and Lanier High School (45.3 percent).

High schools with the lowest rates are River City Early College High School (3.9 percent) in the Vicksburg-Warren School District, Golden Triangle Early College High School (4.1 percent) in the Lowndes County School District and Simmons High School (6.5 percent) in the Hollandale School District.

“One of the first steps school leaders can take to address this issue is to examine their data to identify the students who are struggling the most with chronic absenteeism,” Wright said. “Schools, parents and communities need to work together to make sure all children are attending school regularly.”

Data shows that chronic absenteeism predicts lower levels of numeracy and literacy by third grade, class failure in middle school, higher levels of suspension and higher likelihood of high school dropout and lower rates of college completion.

The MDE reports says, “Over the past decades, Mississippi has largely focused on truancy, which is the absence of a compulsory school-age student from school for five or more days without a valid excuse. Many educators erroneously concluded that truancy is equivalent to chronic absenteeism.”

In individual schools in the Pine Belt by district, the chronic absentee rate by percentage is:

Forrest Agricultural High School (26.75): Forrest Agricultural High School (26.75).

Forrest County School District (14.31): Dixie Attendance Center (16.23), Earl Travillion Attendance Center (15.01), North Forrest Attendance Center (8.28), North Forrest High School (10.26), Rawls Springs Attendance Center (13.04) and South Forrest Attendance Center (19.03).

Hattiesburg Public School District (17.79): Grace Christian Elementary School (10.04), Hattiesburg High School (38.1), Hawkins Elementary School (10.33), Lillie Burney STEAM Academy (15.06), N.R. Burger Middle School (12.02), Rowan Elementary School (7.11), Thames Elementary School (14.13) and Woodley Elementary School (13.4).

Lamar County School District (9.25): Baxterville School (6.93), Longleaf Elementary (5.75), Oak Grove High School (12.84), Oak Grove Lower Elementary School (6.87), Oak Grove Middle School (10.79), Oak Grove Primary School (8.09), Oak Grove Upper Elementary School (5.39), Purvis High School (17.31), Purvis Lower Elementary School (8.87), Purvis Middle School (10.96), Purvis Upper Elementary School (8.67), Sumrall High School (15.52), Sumrall Elementary School (7.08) and Sumrall Middle School (8.32)

Lumberton Public School District (24.8): Lumberton Elementary School (23.5) and Lumberton High School (30.51).

Petal School District (10.6): Petal Elementary School (6.43), Petal High School (18.36), Petal Middle School (13.76), Petal Primary School (7.89) and Petal Upper Elementary School (9.28).

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