At least one in five Chicago Public Schools students missed at least 17 days of school in 2017-18, a far higher chronic absenteeism rate than the state’s average of about one in six children, Illinois state report card data show.
Chronic absenteeism numbers for special education students were even higher. They rose to a troubling 34.6 percent in the city, or more than one in three kids, even as they dipped statewide to 14.5 percent, or about one in seven — another sign of problems with CPS’ special ed services, the Illinois State Board of Education show.
In Chicago, the figures were 29.8 percent for African-American students, 25.5 percent for low-income students, 20.5 percent for children identified as Hispanic and 14.9 percent for white students.
Chicago schools ranged from a low of 1 percent of kids chronically absent at Poe Elementary Classical School in Pullman on the Far South Side to a full 100 percent at 23 of CPS’ high schools. And that 100 percent rate wasn’t found only at alternative high schools for kids at risk of dropping out.
As the latest category ISBE measures to demonstrate a school’s stability and overall health,
Chronic absenteeism — the latest statewide effort to measure schools’ stability and overall health — counts how many students have missed 10 percent or more of required attendance days, 179 days in Chicago. The state board includes this metric as part of a requirement under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
The reasoning amounts to this: Kids who aren’t in school — no matter the reason — can’t learn.
Researchers from the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute have studied the “dramatic effects of even moderate amounts of absences” on things like grades, graduation rates and success in college.
Unlike chronic truancy, which is the rate of students who missed at least 5 percent of school days with unexcused absences, or overall attendance, which the Illinois Board of Ed also lists on the “school report cards” that were released Thursday, the chronic absenteeism category was also counted this year in deciding the overall designations given schools, which range from “exemplary” to “lowest performing.”
Chronic absenteeism includes excused as well as unexcused absences.
That could explain why special ed students, who have written “individualized education plans” or IEPs, had the highest absentee rates in CPS, whose troubled special ed department was just placed under state control.
“When you look at students with IEPs, they tend to have more medical appointments, so even if it’s excused, it counts as a higher absence,” said Chris Yun, an educational policy analyst with the disabilities rights group Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago.
The rates were based on data from last school year.
Over the summer, CPS added a few hundred special ed support positions. But it has yet to fill all of them all. The school system also has struggled to provide enough nurses for students with medical needs, which has led some parents to keep children home for safety reasons when no nurse is available.
“I don’t think you can tag one isolated situation as the root cause for all of that,” LaTanya McDade, CPS’ chief education officer, said of the high absenteeism among special needs kids.
McDade said CPS tracks absenteeism to make sure schools aren’t losing track of students, and special attendance grants have been available for the past six or seven years for schools that need help getting kids to come to school.
“It’s specifically to target those student populations” with IEPs or otherwise are at risk of missing school, she said of the $1 million a year being spent to get kids to show up.
The Montessori of Englewood School was a rare case in which a Chicago school had lower absentee rates among special education students than among all of its students. Principal Rita Nolan credited dependable transportation provided for students with special needs, while that isn’t available for everyone else at her school, which has many kids who are homeless or whose families move around a lot.