School Report Cards: Chronic absenteeism remains well above pre-COVID levels in many McHenry County districts

Disparities remain for low-income students, those with disabilities and English learners

Kindergarten teacher Janet Moritz teaches her class Thursday, April 20, 2023, at Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center in Woodstock.

Chronic absenteeism rates remain above pre-COVID-19 levels across most McHenry County schools, according to data from the Illinois Report Card released last week.

The Illinois Report Card defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10% or more of school days, excused or unexcused. Chronic truancy rate, a measure with some overlap, is defined as missing 5% or more of a school year without a valid reason. Data from the report card indicates that chronic truancy is generally lower in many districts in 2023 than it was in 2021 countywide.

Statewide, 17.5% of students were chronically absent in 2019, compared with 21.1% in 2021, 29.8% in 2022 and 28.3% in 2023.

Racial disparities exist at the state level. Almost 21% of white students were chronically absent in 2023, compared with 42.1% of Black students and 34.5% of Hispanic students.

In general, chronic absenteeism is much higher in 2023 than it was in 2019 across McHenry County school districts. Chronic absenteeism rates also reveal disparities in race, ability status and socioeconomic status, with English language learners, low-income students and students with disabilities having higher rates.

Black and Hispanic students had higher chronic absenteeism rates than their white peers in many school districts.

Elaine Allensworth, who conducts research on education policy at the University of Chicago, said there are many reasons students miss school, such as transportation issues, caring for relatives or being sick, among others.

She said absenteeism rates are higher nationally since before the COVID-19 pandemic, but there likely are many factors as to why those rates remain higher.

Allensworth said she found in her research that attendance rates are a better metric of success in future grade levels and in college than test scores. She said the 10% definition of chronic absenteeism amounts to about two days a month.

“It doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot, but it adds up over time,” she said.

The Northwest Herald broke down the statistic by school district, which was not reported for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community School District 300

In Algonquin-based District 300, chronic absenteeism was 11.9% in 2019 before the pandemic. It climbed to 17.3% in 2021, peaked at 30.9% in 2022 and dropped to 25.6% in 2023.

White students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 8.7% in 2019 and 19.8% in 2023, while the rate for Black students was 24.4% in 2019 and 31.2% in 2023.

Hispanic students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 14.6% in 2019 versus 31.3% in 2023.

Zoki Russo, a third grade teacher at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School, works with students as she teaches her class.

For low-income students, the rate was 18.4% in 2019 and 33.7% in 2023.

English language learners had a rate of 13.6% in 2019, but that climbed to 32.6% in 2023, well above the district rate. Students with disabilities had an absenteeism rate of 16.1% in 2019 and 31.9% in 2023.

Huntley School District 158

District 158′s overall chronic absenteeism rate was 11.5% in 2019, 18.3% in 2021, 19.6% in 2022 and 25.8% in 2023.

The rate for low-income students was 21.6% in 2019, climbing to 36.6% in 2023.

English language learners were at 13.6% in 2019 and more than double that at 29% in 2023. Students with disabilities had a chronic absenteeism rate of 18.8% in 2019 and 33.1% in 2023.

For white students, the rate was 11.4% in 2019 and 24.9% this year, while Black students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 6.6% in 2019 and 18.4% in 2023. The rate for Hispanic students was 16.6% in 2019 and 30.1% in 2023.

At a District 158 board meeting Thursday, Amy MacCrindle, assistant superintendent for learning and innovation, presented data from the Illinois Report Card. Chronic absenteeism was briefly discussed.

“Your kids need to be in school, period,” board member Anthony Quagliano said during the meeting.

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47

The overall chronic absenteeism rate in District 47 was 9.8% in 2019, 19.2% in 2021, 21.6% in 2022 and 19.9% in 2023.

For low-income students, the rate was 17.3% in 2019 versus 28.7% in 2023. English learners were at 15.2% in 2019 and 26.2% in 2023. Students with disabilities had a 27.5% rate this year.

White students’ absenteeism rate was 8.5% in 2019 compared with 17.8% in 2023. Black students’ rate was 20.8% in 2019 but dropped slightly to 20.1% in 2023. Hispanic students’ rate was 13.3% in 2019 versus 25.2% in 2023.

“Each of our schools saw a slight improvement in chronic absenteeism from last year but, as a district, we would like to see those percentages drop even more,” Superintendent Kathy Hinz said. “Each school day is a chance to advance students’ development and academic success, and we strive to partner with parents to ensure that students are at school on a daily basis.”

Community High School District 155

District 155 also saw an uptick in chronic absenteeism from before the pandemic. In 2019, the district’s rate was 13.7%, which declined to 12.8% in 2021, then climbed to 19.3% in 2022 and 23% in 2023.

For white students, the rate was 12.3% in 2019 and 20.9% in 2023. Black students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 15.8% in 2019 and 18.4% in 2023, while Hispanic students’ rate was 21% in 2019 and 32.1% in 2023.

Low-income students were at 27.3% in 2019 and 34% in 2023. English language learners had a chronic absenteeism rate of 30.3% in 2019 and 33.7% in 2023. Students with disabilities were at 23.2% in 2019 and 33.2% in 2023.

“We know consistent student attendance at school has a strong correlation to improved academic outcomes and social-emotional well-being, and we continue to monitor chronic absenteeism and truancy to actively work to improve in these areas,” Superintendent Neil Lesinski said.

Cary School District 26

Chronic absenteeism in District 26 is more than double the rate in 2023 than it was in 2019, when 7.8% of students were chronically absent. That grew to 14.6% in 2021 and 22.2% in 2022 before dropping to 18.5% in 2023.

Just over 7% of white students were chronically absent in 2019 compared with 15.9% in 2023. Almost 21% of Black students were chronically absent in 2019 and 55.6% in 2022. Data were redacted for 2023. Hispanic students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 10.1% in 2019 and 27% in 2023.

Low-income students had a rate of 15.4% in 2019 and 28.4% in 2023, while English learners were at 10% in 2019 and 30.2% in 2023. Students with disabilities’ rate was 12.5% in 2019 and 27% in 2023.

Prairie Grove School District 46

Chronic absenteeism in District 46 doubled since the pandemic, with 9.2% of students chronically absent in 2019. That dropped to 3.7% in 2021 but climbed to 21.5% in 2022 and landed at 18.5% in 2023.

White students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 8.8% in 2019 versus 15.9% in 2023. Data were unavailable for Black students for 2019 and 2021 and redacted for 2022 and 2023. Hispanic students’ rate was 12.5% in 2019 and 35% in 2023.

Low-income students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 18.3% in 2019 and 31.7% in 2023. English learners’ rate of 6.8% in 2019 and was up to 37.8% in 2023. Students with disabilities’ rate in 2019 was 18.8% and 19.3% in 2023.

McHenry School District 15

Chronic absenteeism rates remain higher in District 15 than before COVID-19. They were 11.8% in 2019, 10.7% in 2021, 21.6% in 2022 and 20.8% in 2023. For white students, 11.6% were chronically absent in 2019 and 19.9% in 2023.

Black students had a rate of 22.7% in 2019 and 22.8% in 2023. Hispanic students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 11.2% in 2019 and 22.4% in 2023.

For low-income students, the rate was 17.8% in 2019 and 25.9% in 2023. For English learners, the rate was 12.6% in 2019 and 23.3% in 2023. Students with disabilities were at 19.2% in 2019 and 28.1% in 2023.

McHenry High School District 156

District 156, too, has higher levels of chronic absenteeism than before COVID-19, with a rate of 19.5% in 2019, 21% in 2021, 34.2% in 2022 and 27% in 2023.

Among white students, 19.4% were chronically absent in 2019 and 26.7% in 2023. Almost 17% of Black students were chronically absent in 2019 versus 51.9% in 2023. For Hispanic students, the figure was 20.9% in 2019 and 27.1% in 2023.

More than 31% of low-income students were chronically absent in 2019 versus 37.4% in 2023. For English learners, the rate was 27.22% in 2019 and 26.1% in 2023, while 32% of students with disabilities in 2019 were chronically absent versus 37.9% in 2023.

Assistant Superintendent Carl Vallianatos said “student achievement goes markedly down” with 90% attendance, which would put a student in the chronically absent threshold.

He added student attendance also has implications for career readiness.

“Employers want to see people come [to] work regularly,” Vallianatos said.

Johnsburg School District 12

In 2019, the district had a 6.9% absenteeism rate, which climbed to 10.3% in 2021, 13.2% in 2022 and 16.5% in 2023.

For white students, the rate was 6.4% in 2019 and 15.1% in 2023.

Third grade teacher Kara Lentine teaches her class at Johnsburg Elementary School on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Lentine, who is just two years into her teaching career, received an Early Career Educator Special Recognition from the state for her work.

Data for Black students in the district was redacted in 2022 and 2023, but in 2021 the chronic absenteeism rate was 17.6% versus 0% in 2019. The absenteeism rate for Hispanic students was 11.5% in 2019 and 27.9% in 2023.

Low-income students had an absentee rate of 11.4% in 2019 compared with 24.5% in 2023.

For English language learners, the rate was 12.8% in 2019 compared with 22.7% this year. Students with disabilities had a rate of 15.5% in 2019 and 21.4% in 2023.

Superintendent Daniel Johnson said district nurses work with families to help when students are out sick, and the district also works closely with the regional education office’s truancy officer “to assist families with resources to encourage truant students to be in attendance.”

Woodstock School District 200

District 200 had a chronic absenteeism rate of 13.1% in 2019, 7.1% in 2021, 25.4% in 2022 and 28.3% in 2023.

The rates were 11% for white students in 2019 and 25.7% in 2023. For Black students, the rates were 38.5% in 2019 and 44.7% in 2023. Hispanic students’ rates were 14.1% in 2019 and 30% in 2023.

Students with disabilities were at 21.2% in 2019 and 36.9% in 2023. English language learners’ rate was 14.5% in 2019 and 30.8% in 2023. For low-income students, the rate was 20.3% in 2019 and 36.7% in 2023.

Nippersink School District 2

Almost 8.5% of students in District 2 were chronically absent in 2019 versus 6% in 2021 before a dramatic increase to 23.4% in 2022 and a decline to 16.8% in 2023.

White students’ rate was 22.8% in 2022, which declined to 15.5% in 2023. Hispanic students had a rate of 29.2% in 2022, which fell to 23% in 2023.

Low-income students’ rate was 17% in 2019 and 31.2% in 2023, while English learners were at 7.5% in 2019 before a big jump to 50% in 2022. Data was redacted for 2023.

Students with disabilities had an absenteeism rate of 13.4% in 2019 and 26.3% in 2023.

Richmond-Burton High School District 157

District 157 had higher chronic absenteeism rates than District 2. Both districts share a superintendent.

In 2019, District 157′s rate was 16.7%, which declined to 12.8% in 2021 before climbing to 26.8% in 2022 and declining to 21.5% in 2023.

The absenteeism rate for Hispanic students was 21.6% in 2019 and 22.7% in 2023. White students’ rate was 16% in 2019 versus 21.3% in 2023. Data was redacted for other racial groups.

Low-income students had an absenteeism rate of almost 40% in 2019 and 37.5% in 2023.

Data for English learners in the district were redacted in 2022 and 2023, and no data was available for 2021 and 2019. Students with disabilities had a 16.3% rate in 2019 and 26.1% in 2023.

In an email, Principal Michael Baird said the school district is taking initiatives to improve chronic absenteeism rates.

“Our first and foremost priority is the immediate intervention when students exhibit attendance issues,” he wrote. “We have established a streamlined process to ensure that any student with attendance problems is met with on the very next school day. The immediacy of this conversation is critical, as it sends a clear message to students that we value their presence and are committed to helping them overcome their challenges.”

Fox River Grove School District 3

District 3 has a higher chronic absenteeism rate than it did before the pandemic. It was 5.9% in 2019, 4.5% in 2021, 12.6% in 2022 and 15.1% in 2023.

White students had a rate of 5.3% in 2019 and 13.5% in 2023. Hispanic students had a rate of 13.4% in 2019 versus 21.1% in 2023. Data for Black students was unavailable in 2019 and 2021 and redacted in 2022 and 2023.

Low-income students had a rate of 17.6% in 2019 and 25.2% in 2023. English learners had a rate of 7.7% in 2019 and 8.3% in 2021, but more recent data was redacted.

Students with disabilities had a chronic absenteeism rate of 3.9% in 2019 and 18.5% in 2023.

Alden-Hebron School District 19

District 19 had a chronic absenteeism rate of 10.5% in 2019, which held fairly steady at 10.2% in 2021, declined to 9.3% in 2022 and then climbed to 13%.

White students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 10.4% in 2019 and 12.1% in 2023. Data for Black students was not available.

Hispanic students had a 5.9% rate in 2019 and 16.3% in 2023. Low-income students had a rate of 16% in 2019 and 20.1% in 2023. English learners’ rate was 7.1% in 2019 and 24% in 2023.

Students with disabilities were at 15.3% in 2019 and 28.6% in 2023.

Harvard School District 50

District 50′s overall rate also was higher this year than pre-pandemic levels, at 20.5% in 2019, dropping slightly to 20.3% in 2021 and climbing to 24.3% in 2022 and 30.5% in 2023.

Low-income students’ rate was 24.6% in 2019 and 36.7% in 2023. English learners had a rate of 18.2% in 2019 and 28.7% in 2023, while students with disabilities were at 31.5% in 2019 and 40.8% in 2023.

White students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 20.1% in 2019 versus 29.1% in 2023. Black students’ rate was 36.5% in 2019 and 40.7% in 2023.

Hispanic students had a rate of 20.8% in 2019 and 30.5% in 2023.

District spokesperson Mason Sobiesk said the district has several initiatives in place for trying to reduce chronic absenteeism, including calls home from the high school and checkup meetings with parents.

Riley School District 18

Marengo-based District 18 had chronic absenteeism rates of 2.3% in 2019, 5.9% in 2021, 16.8% in 2022 and 9.6% in 2023.

White students’ rate was 2.4% in 2019 and 8.2% in 2023. Hispanic students had a rate of 0% in 2019 and 36.7% in 2022. Data for 2023 was redacted.

Low-income students had a chronic absenteeism rate of 7.2% in 2019 and 17.6% in 2023. English learners’ rate was 0% in 2019 and 5.6% in 2021. Data was redacted in 2022 and 2023.

Marengo High School District 154

Chronic absenteeism rates in District 154 are more than double in 2023 than in 2019. The rates were 14.5% in 2019, 16.6% in 2021, 27.2% in 2022 and 30% in 2023.

White students’ rate was 14.6% in 2019 and 29.4% in 2023.

Data for Black students was not available in 2019 and redacted for 2022 and 2023. The rate was 50% in 2021. Among Hispanic students, 14.8% were chronically absent in 2019, compared with 31.6% in 2023.

Low-income students had rates of 23.8% in 2019 and 38.2% in 2023. English learners’ rate was 21.8% in 2019 and 45.5% in 2023. Students with disabilities had a rate of 21.6% in 2019 and 39.2% in 2023.

“MCHS analyzes absenteeism data and refers excessive absences to the McHenry County Regional Office of Education truancy department to enlist their help in keeping students in school,” Superintendent David Engelbrecht said, adding that the school also is implementing a positive behavior interventions and support system and “enhancing partnerships with our families” to try to address chronic absenteeism.

Marengo-Union Elementary School District 165

The chronic absenteeism rate in District 165 also remains higher than it did before the pandemic, with 13.8% of students chronically absent in 2019, 12% in 2021, 22.2% in 2022 and 27.5% in 2023.

Among white students, 12.8% were chronically absent in 2019 versus 24.1% in 2023.

Black students’ rate was 24.6% in 2019 and 50% in 2021, with 2022 and 2023 data redacted. Hispanic students’ rate was 15.5% in 2019 and 29% in 2023.

Among low-income students, the rate was 19.6% in 2019 and 33.3% in 2023, while 18.7% of English learners were chronically absent in 2019 versus 32.3% in 2023.

For students with disabilities, the rate was 22.5% in 2019 and 33.3% in 2023.

Superintendent Lea Damisch said that vacations are the largest issue when it comes to student attendance and chronic absenteeism in the district. Damisch said that the district has interventions in place for chronically truant students, including meeting with them once a week and, in severe cases, district staff and a social worker will pick up students at home and drive them to school.

Despite the chronic absenteeism rate rising, “our [test] scores are going in the right direction,” Damisch said.

Reporter Michelle Meyer contributed to this story.