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A record number of students in the Anchorage School District are missing classes

COVID-19 is a large factor, district says
File photo.
File photo.(WCAX)
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 3:57 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 9:42 PM AKDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At Mears Middle School, science teacher Joanna Hubbard’s lesson for the day focused on algae. Her students sat side-by-side going over their homework. It looked like a normal school day despite the masks everyone was required to wear.

Sally Pak, who teaches English literature there, works down the hall. On a Tuesday morning she sat with some students on a lunch break before her fourth period class.

“As much as COVID is a concern I think that students are so excited to be back,” Pak said.

But not all of them are back, and the ones who are, are missing too many classes.

Students in Anchorage are breaking records for the number of school days missed, according to the Anchorage School District. According to Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock, right now about 40% of the students are missing school more than 10% of the time during this school year.

The school district says for national standards, that is “chronic absenteeism.”

“We have record numbers of absenteeism, and it’s no ones fault,” Stock said. “COVID, you know, is all part of that and the number of students out with quarantining, etc., but school attendance is absolutely critical.”

Those missed days have also lead to lower grades.

According to the school district, the number of F grades received by students in 6-12 remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.

In 2018-2019, 5.2% of students had an F grade. Stock said number jumped to 11.4% in 2020-2021, and this year it is estimated to be back down at about 7-8%.

“It’s actually lower than it was during the pandemic when people were not in school and students were actually home, so it’s a little bit better since then, but certainly it’s above the pre-pandemic F ratios of students who failed,” Stock said.

Higher number of F’s can also be attributed to a lack of substitute teachers and staffing shortages, fatigue and getting back into a more normal routine.

“When you stop and think about it if you’ve missed 18 months of actual schooling, and you’re only a sixth grader, think about what percentage that is of your life in school,” Stock said. “So students are still adjusting.”

Stock said the district plans to put resources toward getting grades up among students.

“We had the largest summer school program that we’ve ever done in the history of ASD this summer,” he said. “And we have that budgeted again for next year.”

The district also utilizes after school support and tutoring to help catch kids up, he said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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