ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico law requires schools to keep track of student attendance. Now, the latest data shows which schools in the Albuquerque District have top attendance numbers and which have big problems with absences.
“Attendance really is fundamental, yet we know we have soaring chronic absence rates,” Jessica Hathaway, a senior policy analyst with New Mexico’s Legislative Education Study Committee, told a panel of lawmakers Thursday. “Many students in New Mexico aren’t showing up.”
Across New Mexico, 39% of students were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year, data from the Public Education Department shows. That means 134,259 students missed about three weeks or more of school, according to a Legislative Education Study Committee report.
The problem is statewide, but in Albuquerque, on average, the more than 150 schools in the district had a chronic absentee rate of 37.7%. That means more than 33,000 of the kids in the district missed 10% or more of the entire 2022-2023 school year.
Some schools in the district did much better than the average. Ecademy, Coyote Willow Family School, Desert Willow Family School, East Mountain High School, Cottonwood Classical Prep, and Double Eagle Elementary were the best-performing schools in the district in terms of low chronic absentee rates during the 2022-2023 school year. Each of those schools had fewer than 11% of their students experience chronic absenteeism.
On the other end of the list, New Futures High School, ABQ Charter Academy, Freedom High, Gilbert L Sena Charter High School, New America School, and Health Leadership High School each had more than three-quarters of their student population chronically absent in the 2022-2023 school year, the data reveals.
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Data from two school years shows that absenteeism can change drastically over a short period. Data: NMPED.
Some of the schools struggling the most with chronic absenteeism are those with non-traditional students. New Futures High School, at which nearly 93% of students were chronically absent in the 2022-2023 school year, serves about 100 parenting or pregnant students.
Some of the best performing, on the other hand, also don’t fit into the traditional public school model. Cottonwood Classical, for example, is a preparatory charter public school.
“There’s a lot of data that tells us once kids miss even two days a month, they start to lose learning opportunities,” Carisa Petrie, the assistant director at Cottonwood Classical, told KRQE News 13. “So, it’s important for us to have kids here [where] they can participate, they can learn to socialize in an appropriate environment.”
Attendance, especially for younger kids, depends on parents. “We really encourage our families to send their kids to school unless they really are sick,” Petrie said.
But some New Mexico parents simply aren’t bringing their kids to school when they should, some lawmakers say.
“Before the pandemic, school was more fun,” Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-ABQ.) said in Thursday’s Legislative Education Study Committee meeting. “Kids thought of school as more like a job. Parents thought of school as the job their kids had to do. And that has kind of gone away with the pandemic.”
Stewart said that the change in attitude towards school is a nationwide problem. But FutureEd, a think tank from Georgetown University, studied chronic absenteeism across the nation and ranked New Mexico as the nation’s worst.
For years, New Mexico has been working on trying to improve school attendance. That’s why the data on absence rates exists – in 2019, lawmakers created the Attendance for Success Act, which required schools to better monitor attendance data and create plans that schools could follow to get attendance rates on track.
Now, several years later, almost all schools have submitted attendance plans. In the 2022-2023 school year, only 37 schools (out of 845) hadn’t submitted a required plan, according to the Legislative Education Study Committee report.
That is measurable progress. But when asked what happens with those plans once submitted, Greg Frostad, the assistant secretary of policy, research, and technology with the New Mexico Public Education Department, said that so far, the state’s education department has only really been focused on making sure those plans get submitted. “We have not yet begun to approve plans as they come in,” Frostad said during Thursday’s Legislative Education Study Committee meeting.
Some on the committee framed attendance problems as the symptom of larger community problems. Sen. William P. Soules (D-Las Cruces) said attendance issues come from problems with housing, transportation, drug addiction, and mental health.
“So much of the problem is a ‘not education’ kind of a problem, yet we’ve tried to approach it as if it’s an education problem, almost punishing the kids who are chronically absent when it’s not their fault, it’s our fault,” Soules said.
For more on attendance, including the attendance data from any school in New Mexico, you can visit the state’s data dashboard.