HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Improving student attendance is one of the state Department of Education's top priorities. But schools have lost some ground.
A new report shows more than 48,800 students in grades K-12 missed more than two days of school in the first quarter of this year, compared to about 42,000 students a year ago.
"That concerns us," DOE deputy Superintendent Stephen Schatz said. "One of the things we know for sure is that if students aren't in class each day they're not going to be learning."
The DOE tracked attendance for 174,575 students who attend public and charter schools that use the department's student information system to maintain attendance.
"What's really important in watching this piece of data is to make sure that we stay on top of students and make sure that they're coming to school," DOE assistant superintendent Tammi Oyadomari-Chun said.
What isn't evident from the raw numbers is why more kids missed school.
HSTA president Corey Rosenlee believes several factors contributed to the increase in absenteeism.
"When students are having a difficult time getting to school, or maybe their parents can't drop them off, or we're reducing bus service -- anytime that we make it harder for kids to attend school this creates a larger problem," he said.
Another factor may be the climate. This school year started during some of the hottest weather on record.
"It's something that we need to look at more on a school-by-school basis," Oyadomari-Chun said.
"We do know this year that teachers and students were getting sick because of the heat," Rosenlee said. "And the heat's not gone away. Even this past week classroom temperatures were getting above 90 degrees."
Students who are absent 15 days or more during the school year are considered chronically absent. The DOE said the percentage of kids in that category has come down over the past three years.
"We're seeing some really great efforts in schools, knocking on doors, talking to parents, figuring out actually what the issue is that's preventing our students from coming to school and learning," Schatz said.
For the first quarter of the school year (46 days long), the state Department of Education tracked what percentage of students at each school attained 95 percent attendance, or missed no more than two days of school. Here's what they found: