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Chronic absenteeism may be cause of Oregon's low high school graduation rate

"It's incredibly concerning," says Colt Gill, deputy superintendent of public instruction for the State of Oregon and former head of the Bethel School District in Eugene. "A quarter of our students are not able to graduate on time."

EUGENE, Ore. - What's that famous quote? Eight pecent of success is showing up?

Apply that same thought to public school students in Oregon.

"It's incredibly concerning," says Colt Gill, deputy superintendent of public instruction for the State of Oregon and former head of the Bethel School District in Eugene. "A quarter of our students are not able to graduate on time."

Oregon ranks third worst in the nation with a graduation rate of just 75 percent.

For Gill, a huge reason for that abysmal number is chronic absenteeism.

"Meaning that those students are missing 10 percent or more of the school year," he said.

For the youngest students, they can't keep up.

"They are 83 percent less likely to be reading on time by third grade," Gill said.

For older students, they can't complete school: Absentees are four times less likely to finish high school in four year.

Gill has proposed a plan to keep more of these kids in class.

The legislature has come up with the money.

The most intensive part of the plan is sending direct help and technical assistance to districts where absenteeism is the worst.

"On-site staffing that will work with the staff to identify areas of concern that may be the root causes of some of this chronic absenteeism," Gill said.

Joyce Johnson, principal of Holt Elementary in the Eugene 4J School District, agrees with Gill's game plan. She said her school is part of a pilot program to support parents with young students.

"That includes early notification when we start to notice slips in attendance," she said.

These are small steps with big implications: to persuade Oregonians that keeping kids in school regularly is a high priority.

"That's something we need to turn around in our state," Gill said. "It's something I believe we need to invest in."

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