Northeast Oregon is outpacing the state when it comes to reducing chronic absenteeism in its school districts.

Oregon Department of Education statistics indicate that Northeast Oregon was the only region in the state that saw its overall chronic absenteeism rate decline in 2017-18. The rate for the most recently completed school year was
18.7 percent, down from 19.1 percent in 2016-17, said Landon Braden, the InterMountain Education Service District’s chronic absenteeism coordinator.

“This is very encouraging,” Braden said.

The Oregon Department of Education, for the purpose of comparing chronic absenteeism statistics, has the state divided in six regions. Union, Wallowa, Baker, Umatilla and Morrow counties comprise Region H.

Despite the drop in Region H, the overall chronic absenteeism rate in the state rose by 0.8 percent to 20.5 percent in 2017-18, according the Oregon Department of Education’s website.

These Oregon Department of Education statistics indicate that seven Union and Wallowa county school districts are below the state average for chronic absenteeism and two others are just above it. Those under the state average are the Cove, Imbler, North Powder, La Grande, Joseph, Wallowa and Enterprise school districts. Just above the state average are the Union and Elgin school districts.

Students are considered chronically absent by the state if they are absent for 10 percent of the school year. This means if they miss as few as two school days a month for an entire academic year, they are listed in the chronically absent category. Students in school districts with four-day weeks are considered chronically absent if they miss 14 or more days a year, and those in five-day school districts are rated as chronically absent if they miss 18 or more school days in an academic year.

Braden believes school districts in Northeast Oregon are improving with regard to chronic absenteeism because of the close-knit relationship between the schools and their communities. This makes it easier for staff and community members to reach out to help chronically absent students.

“We have an incredibly good group of communities,” Braden said. “Everyone knows each other (and) there are close relationships” between school staff, schools and communities.

Erin Lair, the IMESD’s director of teaching and learning, agrees.

“We have incredible communities,” said Lair, who is helping Braden address chronic absenteeism.

The Oregon Department of Education began placing greater emphasis on reducing chronic absenteeism rates about two years ago. The move was spurred by an effort to improve graduation rates. Students who are chronically absent are less likely to earn a high school diploma.

The push to improve chronic absenteeism rates “is all about getting students to graduate,” said IMESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill.

Larry Glaze, the IMESD’s director of operations, said it is easy to fall into the chronically absent category if one is not careful.

“A day here and a day there — people don’t realize that it adds up quickly,” said Glaze, who served as superintendent of the La Grande School District from 2008 to 2017.

Students who miss 10 percent of school days are considered chronically absent even if all of the absences are excused for reasons such as medical appointments and extracurricular school activity trips.

“There is a tendency to think if it is excused, it is okay to miss a day,” Mulvihill said, “(but) school is important (and) every day is valuable.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer