Education report

YAKIMA, Wash. -- About 13 percent of all U.S. K-12 students missed 15 days of school or more in the 2013-14 school year, according to new federal data released Tuesday.

More than 99 percent of all U.S. school districts submitted their numbers on a variety of issues, such as bullying and harassment, discipline, personnel, restraint and seclusion, among others.

This year’s data dump — the Civil Rights Data Collection — by the U.S. Department of Education, though, presented new datapoints for public analysis, such as chronic absenteeism. The federal agency surveys all U.S. public school districts on a number of topics, and is a mandatory data collection.

According to the survey, more than 6.5 million students were labeled as chronically absent. Among other findings on the same topic, more than 3 million high school students were chronically absent, or about 18 percent of the U.S. high school population.

Absenteeism rates were higher among some races, such as American Indian or Alaska Native, 26 percent; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 25 percent; black, 22 percent; multiracial, 21 percent; and Latino, 20 percent.

Students with disabilities were 1.3 times as likely to be chronically absent, according to the data. Furthermore, English language learners also were chronically absent at a higher rate than the national average, at about 20 percent.

Chronically absent students tend to fall behind in their coursework, with some of them unable to fully recover. Earlier this year, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction addressed the topic through its own report. As state Superintendent Randy Dorn mentioned earlier in the year, “When students aren’t in school — for any reason — it’s harder for them to learn what they need to know to be successful.”

The federal data may actually lag behind the state’s. In the Washington state data — which was based on the 2014-15 school year — the statewide average was 16 percent among school districts with enrollments of 500 or more students.

Locally, the chronically absent rates ranged from as high as 37 percent in the Mt. Adams School District and as low as under 4 percent in Granger. How school districts combat absences varies; Granger, for instance, has created an incentive program rewarding attendance, while Mt. Adams has strengthened its partnership with the Yakama Nation through programs such as the tribal court’s juvenile system.

Both the state and the feds have contrasting definitions of chronic absenteeism. While the Department of Education defined it as someone absent for 15 or more school days, OSPI listed it as 18 or more school days. OSPI spokesman Nathan Olson said the state uses 18 because it amounts to 10 percent of a typical 180-day school year.

Another new item addressed in the civil rights data was how many schools employ school resource officers with arresting authority. According to the survey, 24 percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of high schools have sworn law enforcement officers, or SLEOs. On another note: 51 percent of high schools with high black and Latino student populations had SLEOs in the 2013-14 school year.

Meanwhile, it appears public preschool is becoming more affordable for parents — and more are free, as another new question addressed the state of preschool costs. Survey results showed that 86 percent of preschool-providing school districts offered free half-day or full-day programs, while 14 percent still required parents or guardians to pay the full price.