Student Absenteeism Up as Kentucky Schools Recover from Some Hard Years

2022-23 School Report Card now available for all schools, districts.

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Kentucky’s new School Report Card shows the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic on student learning.

Interim Education Commissioner Robin Fields Kinney told reporters Tuesday that “a multi-year recovery period” will likely be needed “before school performance really gets back” to pre-pandemic levels.

Robin Fields Kinney

Kinney and other state education officials briefed reporters on newly released assessment and education data from 2022-23. A wide range of metrics was reported for every public school — from math and reading performance to teacher demographics. The information is publicly available in a color-coded dashboard at Kentucky School Report Card.

Kinney said the data reveals a worrisome increase in student absenteeism.

The rate of student absences is up by two-thirds from 2018-19, the last academic year before COVID-19 disrupted traditional attendance record keeping.

In the 2018-19 academic year, 119,581 students were considered chronically absent, or 17.8% of Kentucky students.

In the 2022-23 academic year, 198,524 students — or 29.8% — qualified as chronically absent.

Kinney attributed the increased absences not just to pandemic disruptions but also to challenges created when tornadoes hit Western Kentucky in 2021 and floods devastated Eastern Kentucky in 2022, as well as to “emotional trauma and stress” among young people.

The Kentucky Department of Education defines chronic absenteeism as attending 90% or less of the time a student should spend in class.

“Every child deserves the opportunity for consistent attendance and a chance to thrive in the classroom. It is crucial that we work together and find solutions to combat chronic absenteeism,” Kinney said.

Kinney, who recently began serving as the interim education commissioner, said the state “must not underestimate” the coronavirus’s impact on student learning. When the pandemic reached Kentucky in March 2020, schools closed and switched to remote and virtual learning to prevent spread of the virus.

“We know that changes in the way instruction was delivered from 2020 to 2022 had an impact on student learning, despite the tremendous efforts of Kentucky educators and parents to remediate those impacts,” Kinney said.

Learning gaps

The best readers, those achieving proficient or distinguished scores, were more likely to come from economically secure homes. (Kentucky Department of Education)The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to identify schools that need extra support and resources based on their significantly underperforming student subgroups. The lowest-performing schools are classified as needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI); the next lowest-performing are classified as needing Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI.)

Kentucky has 1,484 schools. According to the data, 28 schools were classified as needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement  and 224 needed Targeted Support and Improvement. None were identified as needing Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI).

In 2022, there were 401 TSI schools, but two closed, leaving 399 TSI schools. . This year, 185 exited TSI status. Ten schools formerly CSI are now TSI schools.

Students scoring proficient or distinguished in math. (Kentucky Department of Education)
The data show striking academic gaps for economically disadvantaged students, African American students and students who have disabilities and individual education plans.

Among high school students, the overall score for all students was 63.0. For African Americans it was 45.5 and for students with disabilities it was 40.4.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or distinguished in math and reading was double among those who come from homes that are more economically secure compared with their economically disadvantaged peers.

The numbers, which were released less than a week away from voters deciding Kentucky’s next governor and other statewide offices and ahead of the General Assembly’s 2024 legislative session, will be reviewed by lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Education in Frankfort Wednesday morning. The data is typically released annually in the fall, months after students take assessments in the spring.

Kinney said the Department of Education will continue to assist school districts and will continue work with the General Assembly to improve literacy attainment for the state’s youngest students and early learners.

Assessment results

While student performance still has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, Kentucky elementary and middle schools did increase their reading and math performances in 2022-23.High schools maintained their performances. Elementary, middle and high schools increased their performances in science, social studies and combined writing areas. Students completed assessments in spring 2023.

The state’s four-year graduation rate in 2022-23 was 91.4%. The five-year graduation rate was 92.5%.

For Kentucky students who took the ACT during the 2022-23 school year, the average composite score was 18.5, up 0.2 from the previous year.

Demographics in Kentucky schools

During the 2022-23 school year, a majority of Kentucky students were economically disadvantaged, 60.2%. Identifying such students depends on “being program or income eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.” In the same school year, 39.8% of students were non-economically disadvantaged.

According to data from the previous school year, 2021-22, 59.9% of students were economically disadvantaged.

Additionally, Kentucky schools are slightly more diverse when comparing current and last year’s data. During 2022-23, a majority of Kentucky students are white, 72.7%, down 0.8% from the previous year. Also in the same school year, 10.8% of Kentucky students are African American, 8.5% are Hispanic or Latino, and 7.2% identify as another demographic.

A majority of faculty in Kentucky schools continue to be women, 77.2%, and white, 94.7%.

Educational opportunities

Fewer students participated in Career and Technical Education programs in the 2022-23 school year than the previous school year. In 2022-23, the participation rate was 18%, down 6.4%.

About 0.1% more students were identified as Gifted and Talented in the most recent school year for a total of 13.8%. Advanced coursework completion also slightly increased by 0.3%, for a total of 93.9%.

For the 2022-23 school year, Kentucky’s attendance rate was 91.9%, but about 34% of all Kentucky students were identified as having chronic absenteeism, or being present 90% or less of full-time equivalency.

School safety

The data released Tuesday showed that 13.5% of students have had behavior events reported to the state. Additionally, the percentage of students who received an out-of-school suspension last year was 5.9% and the percentage of students who had an in-school removal was 7.5%.

Earlier this year, the Republican-led General Assembly approved legislation to expand student discipline methods in Kentucky classrooms before situations escalate into safety concerns. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking reelection, signed the bill into law.

Jamie Lucke contributed to this report.

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: info@kentuckylantern.com. Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

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