Wichita schools redefine, fight ‘chronic absenteeism’

Parents, a quick quiz:

How many school days would your child have to miss during a nine-week grading period to be considered “chronically absent”?

Ten? Twelve? Fifteen?

Try four.

Armed with a growing collection of data that shows test scores drop as absences rise, Wichita schools have redefined “chronic absenteeism” and are launching new strategies to make sure kids get to school and stay through the final bell.

“Every day’s lesson builds upon the previous day. So when you miss a half-day or even an hour, you’re missing a huge chunk of information,” said Lisa Lutz, executive director of innovation and evaluation for the Wichita school district.

Students are considered chronically absent if they miss 10 percent or more of school time. That’s about four days per nine-week grading period, or six-and-a-half days so far this school year.

Unlike truancy, which relates to unexcused absences, chronic absenteeism includes parent-excused absences such as those for dental appointments, family commitments and vacations. It does not include in-school suspensions or missed class time for school-sponsored activities.

“We know there are only certain things within our control,” Lutz said. “So we’re talking about reaching out to the community to help get this message out there.”

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