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In this file photo from 2015, Sweet Home High School science teacher Deidra Spencer passes out cards to students who have had attendance rates of at least 90 percent for the month. The cards can be turned in for raffle prizes. 

Oregon's public schools have one of the nation's worst rates of chronic absenteeism, and state and education officials say it's among their priorities to drive that rate down.

Here's why that's important: Students who aren't consistently in the classroom have a harder time graduating on time, a conclusion that makes intuitive sense but also is one that has been backed by research.

And yet, Oregon is losing ground in its efforts to combat chronic absenteeism, which is defined as the percentage of students who miss more than 10 percent of the school year.

The most recent data, released a few months ago, show that some 29 percent of Oregon high school students are chronically absent. The number is even higher for seniors: 40 percent.

In that light, it's interesting to note that the state is changing its directives for when a student can be marked absent: Under a new policy from the Department of Education, students can be counted as present when they're traveling to or taking part in school sports competitions and other extracurricular activities.

The new directive should result in an improved absenteeism rate, but it still feels a bit like we're cooking the books to get a better result: It won't do anything to actually get one more student into one more classroom anywhere in the state.

To be fair, state education officials make a couple of points that are worth considering: First, students who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to graduate on time than their peers who choose to avoid those activities. (And most coaches require regular attendance on the part of students if they want to stay on the team.) The officials also note that some school districts in the state mark students as present even if they're away at a sports event, so this switch could level the playing field, so to speak.

Now, as you may recall, Oregon doesn't specify the number of days of instruction schools should offer their students — instead, state law mandates that schools must offer students a certain number of hours of instruction aligned to state academic standards each year. So, for example, high school students should be offered 990 hours of instruction each school year.

But there's a catch, as The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond noted in a recent story: State law doesn't mandate that students receive that much instruction, just that schools should provide it. So consider the new findings that 40 percent of high school seniors miss more than 10 percent of that time. It works out to nearly 100 hours of instruction.

Officials say they're working on various strategies to deal with the chronic absenteeism problem in Oregon schools. Let's hope that tinkering with the formula used to calculate the absenteeism rate is not among those strategies.

If you're curious, by the way: Most mid-valley school districts are below that 29 percent state average. In Linn County, the mark for the Greater Albany Public Schools was 20.7 percent. In Lebanon, the number was 24.3 percent. In Sweet Home, the number was 24.1 percent. In Central Linn, the number was 21.6 percent, in Harrisburg, 22.5 percent. Scio was at 25.9 percent.   

Correction

We bungled an important detail in Wednesday's editorial, about the challenges facing Oregon's Republican Party: The editorial reported that party members would be meeting Saturday in Keizer to select the state party chair.

In fact, by the time we wrote the editorial, the meeting already had occurred: It was held last Saturday. (It was held in Keizer, so at least we had that detail correct.)

For the record, Bill Currier of Adair Village was re-elected chair of the state party at the meeting. It will be Currier's third two-year term as chair, and the party will benefit from the continuity he can offer in the position.(mm)

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