National data shows how Oregon school districts stack up on chronic absenteeism

By Natalie Pate (OPB)
April 2, 2024 1 p.m.

In most Oregon districts, students missed school more often than the national average last year. However, nearly 20 districts matched the national average. Some saw improvements.

More students are missing school on a regular basis.

In the four years since COVID-19 closed schools, U.S. education has struggled to recover on several fronts, including learning loss, enrollment, and student behavior.


But perhaps the most stubborn and pervasive issue has been the sharp increase in student absenteeism seen across the country, as the New York Times reported Friday. The Times analysis found an attendance problem that cuts across demographics and has continued long after schools reopened.

FILE: Students sitting inside a classroom at David Douglas High School in Portland on Sept. 6, 2023. The David Douglas School District saw chronic absenteeism increase from 21.8% in 2019 to 40.1% in 2023.

FILE: Students sitting inside a classroom at David Douglas High School in Portland on Sept. 6, 2023. The David Douglas School District saw chronic absenteeism increase from 21.8% in 2019 to 40.1% in 2023.

Caden Perry / OPB

Nationally, an estimated 26% of public school students were considered chronically absent last school year, up from 15% before the pandemic. This is according to the most recent data, from 40 states and Washington, D.C., compiled by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. The New York Times highlighted this data in their recent coverage, including a tool to look up individual district data.

Related: Class of 2025 students struggle with attendance

Oregon tracks attendance data as well. The state’s most recent annual report card shows about 38% of students statewide were chronically absent in 2022-23. The ones missing the most classes are students who identify as nonbinary, who are experiencing homelessness and who have disabilities.


Chronic absence is typically defined as missing at least 10% of the school year, or about 18 days, for any reason.

The data included in the Times report shows that most school districts across Oregon are seeing worse rates than the national average. But out of nearly 200 districts, close to 20 met or had better attendance rates than the national average. A handful even saw improvements.

The state’s second-largest district, Salem-Keizer Public Schools, had the highest absenteeism rate in the data when looking at the 10 school districts with the most students.

According to the data, about a quarter of Salem-Keizer students were chronically absent in 2019. Since the pandemic, that number has jumped to nearly half — 48% of the district’s 40,000-plus students were chronically absent in 2023.

“It is very important for students to be in school as much as possible,” Aaron Harada, the district’s director of community relations and communications, told OPB in an email.

“Along with the rest of the country, we have certainly struggled with rebuilding regular attendance,” he said. “We know relationships matter, and our staff and schools do an amazing job at connecting with students and providing additional opportunities for engagement. We are encouraged to see some positive attendance trends across our schools this year.”

When expanding the scope to all districts in the state, some saw improvements in the last few years. Harper, Paisley, Blachly, North Powder and Powers school districts — all small, rural school districts with only a few hundred students — improved between 2019 and 2023. Ione School District, which serves about 200 students in a farming community near Hermiston, stayed the same, with 28% of students chronically absent.

Experts say attendance is crucial for students’ academic and social success. If they don’t show up, they can’t learn. Research, as reported by the nonprofit news outlet Education Week, suggests students are less likely to skip class if they feel connected to their teachers and peers, if they feel welcome in school and if they find their coursework relevant.

Related: On Why Oregon schools' pandemic recovery lags behind much of the nation