Why are Oregon students chronically absent from school?

Evan Watson (KGW)

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 38% of all Oregon students were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year — a “serious concern” according to the Oregon Department of Education, as most states reported their attendance rates improved another year removed from pandemic closures.

The data, released by the Department of Education, shows a climbing rate of “chronic absenteeism” — defined as students who miss 10% or more of their school days, or about three weeks of school.

About 200,000 Oregon students, or 38% of all students statewide, were recorded as being chronically absent during the school years of 2022 through 2023. The year prior, 36% of all students were recorded as chronically absent.

In 2018-2019, 20% of all Oregon students were recorded as chronically absent, highlighting how far attendance rates have plummeted post-pandemic.

“Big picture, it’s troubling,” said Madhu Narayanan, assistant professor at Portland State University. “We want students to graduate from school, and [absenteeism] has a huge impact on their life outcomes.”

Narayanan said it would’ve been alarming even if absenteeism levels stayed flat, noting how they’ve worsened since pre-pandemic levels. He added that the data shows some demographics are being affected more than others.

“Black students, Native American students in particular and Pacific Islanders, English language learners — all these groups have higher rates of chronic absenteeism, and all of those are exacerbated by poverty,” he said.

Most every school district in Oregon reported drops in attendance in the newly released data.

That includes the Beaverton School District, where Beaverton Education Association president Lindsay Ray said she believes low staffing levels and large class sizes contribute, but there are other pressures keeping students from attending regularly.

“External factors, housing insecurity, food insecurity, students not receiving that external support that gets them to school — that’s happening in Beaverton, but I also think that’s happening everywhere in this state,” Ray said.

Among the grade level data, kindergartners and high school seniors recorded the highest rates of chronic absenteeism at 45% and 52%, respectively.

Narayanan said school clubs and activities, incentives, reminders to families and early warning systems can all work in improving attendance levels, but the key is to make sure the adults in each school personally know each student and what they need.

“Every child who comes to school, we know they benefit when they feel like they’re seen and when they feel like they have someone who believes in them,” Narayanan said. “You [need to] have the systems for following up and really prioritize relationships.”

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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