Data show chronic student absences at Moss Point High

 Moss Point High School students line up for their graduation ceremony in May 2013. Moss Point High School has highest absentee rate and the lowest graduation rate in South Mississippi.
KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALD Moss Point High School students line up for their graduation ceremony in May 2013. Moss Point High School has highest absentee rate and the lowest graduation rate in South Mississippi. SUN HERALD

Just over half the student body at one South Mississippi school was considered chronically absent during the 2013-14 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

For the first time, the department's Civil Rights Office on June 7 released the number of public school students grades kindergarten through 12 considered to be "chronically absent" -- or missing at least 15 days.

Just over half the student body of Moss Point High School, or 50.8 percent, fell within the chronically absent category. That rate puts it in the top 10 Mississippi schools with the highest absentee rates.

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Moss Point School District reported a 32.1 percent absentee rate, and only two state districts had higher rates. The statewide average was 15.8 percent.

Moss Point School District Superintendent Shannon M. Vincent could not be reached for comment.

Pass Christian School District had South Mississippi's best rate at 1.4 percent.

A school's absentee rate was determined by dividing the number of absences by total enrollment.

A student is considered absent if he or she

is not physically on school grounds and is not participating in instruction or instruction-related activities at an approved off-grounds location for the school day. Chronically absent students include students who are absent for any reason, regardless of whether absences are excused or not. A student must miss 15 or more days of school during the school year, or at least 10 percent of the school year to be considered chronically absent.

Low attendance rates typically results in lower graduation rates and test scores. The graduation rate for the Moss Point district was 65.3 percent in 2014, down 8.6 percent from 2011 and the lowest among South Mississippi school districts.

One standard to measure test results is the third-grade reading test, which determines if a student is eligible to pass on to fourth grade. In the Moss Point, the district pass rate was 68 percent.

One variable to consider with attendance rates is economics. Those in poorer school districts tend to have higher absentee rates. That holds true for Moss Point, whose per capita income was $21,075, according to the 2010 Census, the last time it was calculated. By way of comparison, the per capital income of Pass Christian was $28,555.

Less income means less coming in from property taxes for the school district. Also, decreased attendance means less money from the state, which already falls well below the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula signed into law in 1996.

According to the Parents Campaign, which tracks how much money state schools have been underfunded by the MAEP formula, the Moss Point School District was short over $1 million for the 2015-16 school year. That number balloons to over $9 million going back nine years.

Moss Point school district officials have proposed a strategy to deal with attendance according to a Power Point presentation on the school district's website.

Among the proposals include three to five days of paid teacher training this summer, summer enrichment classes for students, a truancy task force, the addition of pre-K classrooms and dual enrollment options at the college level with transportation.

Inside the classroom, officials proposed two hours of mandatory reading time at every grade level, technology coaches, a literacy initiative and mandatory computer time.

Parental involvement is another issue, district officials say.

Proposals to get the parents involved include reading with one's child 20 minutes a day, monitoring homework and test schedules, visiting the school and getting to know the teachers, and volunteering to assist with classroom activities.

The state Department of Education assigned a literacy coach to the district last year. The coach will train teachers on effective ways to teach their students.

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