Hofmeister convenes work group of community leaders to tackle student chronic absenteeism


OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 18, 2018) – In a concerted effort to reduce chronic absenteeism in school, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has launched a work group to study the problem and recommend potential solutions. The group, which consists of representatives of community nonprofits and education advocacy organizations, held its first meeting this week.

The work group is a result of an October 2017 Community Convening called by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. Its nearly 300 participants were asked to commit to one or more of four critical areas addressing the “whole child” needs of Oklahoma schoolchildren. In addition to chronic absenteeism, they included children in trauma, reading readiness and child nutrition.

“By initiating a focus on reducing chronic absenteeism across Oklahoma, we hope to reshape conversations between schools and families,” said Hofmeister. “This new focus works to identify and remove barriers to strengthen attendance and learning for individual students. Attendance matters for student success. It is essential for building academic momentum and progress for kids.”

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent (or approximately 18 days in a 180-day school year) and includes both excused and unexcused absences. In OSDE’s 8-Year Strategic Plan, called Oklahoma Edge, chronic absenteeism is the nonacademic indicator of school success in the new school accountability system.

Attendance experts stress that every minute of instructional time is valuable. Attendance Works, a national initiative to reduce chronic absenteeism, reports that two missed days a month are equivalent to 10% of the school year and thus can be considered chronic absence when spread across the school calendar. 

Among the working group attendees was Karrie Bales, school resource officer for the Stillwater Police Department. She works with students who struggle with a myriad of issues – such as bullying, drug addiction, abuse and teen pregnancy – that can make school attendance a challenge. 

“What I realized early on was a lot of the students I was dealing with also had attendance issues,” Bales said. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all fix for chronic absenteeism. It can be a frustrating thing for schools because dealing with attendance is not always a priority.”

Representatives in the group said a pattern of chronic absenteeism can begin as early as kindergarten and often follows students throughout school. Leaders from rural areas pointed to greater challenges in small towns where community resources are scarce or geographically distant.

“Low-skill jobs aren’t growing; they’re shrinking,” said Jerry Burch, deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction and technology in Woodward Public Schools. “It’s important to be building relationships and building the desire of families and students to want to be in school. We need to create a culture that says it’s better to be in school than anyplace else.”

Other factors that contribute to absenteeism were identified as mental health obstacles, lack of transportation and poor nutrition, which can lead to obesity and bullying.

The group plans to tackle more specific areas within chronic absenteeism throughout the spring and summer. The goal is to finalize a list of action items and recommendations to OSDE in the fall.

Last updated on January 18, 2018