INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly one in five Hoosier students were chronically absent from school last school year, according to the State Board of Education.

That amounts to 221,000 students who missed 18 or more days of school or 10 percent of the entire school year.

”We have a real challenge across our nation and in Indiana,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said.

According to the SBOE, 1,651 Indiana schools had one in ten students who were chronically absent during the 2022/2023 school year. Although the amount of chronically absent students decreased compared to the 2021/2022 school year, the rate still remains roughly eight percent higher compared to the average pre-pandemic level.

“I think the numbers are alarming, Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central Schools, said.

Olin said over the past few years Greenfield-Central has hired more social workers and strengthened its partnership with the county attorney to hold families to attendance agreements.

”We’ve actually in a few extreme cases filed charges for educational neglect, so I will tell you, it’s been eye-opening,” Olin said.

The SBOE said chronic absenteeism is most prevalent amongst high schoolers, from 21% of ninth graders to more than a third of twelfth graders.

Jenney said that’s why she’s pushing for more high-quality work-based learning programs for 11th and 12th-grade students.

”We’re seeing some high schools across our state already doing that with early college models and connecting them to whether it’s employment or enrollment but I think we have a real opportunity to scale that,” Jenner said.

The Department of Education said an “Early Warning” dashboard is also in the works. Jenner said schools will be able to use the online tool to predict how several factors, including attendance, could impact a student’s chances of graduating.

”It is absolutely the intent when a school may see that predictive data for an individual child that they would reach out to our key partner, which is the parent/family, to say, ‘Hey, when we look at these indicators, it’s predicted that your child may be at risk,'” Dr. Jenner said.

The dashboard will be tested among several schools this school year as part of a pilot program. Jenner said the goal is to launch the dashboard statewide starting next school year.