State Reports Decrease Number of Chronically Absent Students

BOSTON (SHNS) – After skyrocketing during the pandemic, the number of students considered “chronically absent” from school is finally starting to decline, though still well above pre-COVID levels.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Acting Commissioner Russell Johnston announced during a state board of education meeting Tuesday that there was a 20 percent reduction in the number of students missing 18 or more days of school in the academic year that is ending.

In March 2023, about 24.5 percent of students were considered chronically absent or missed more than 10 percent of the 180-day school year. That figure fell to 19.6 percent in March, representing about 45,000 students who missed a lot of school time last year but not this year.

Officials have warned that missing more than 10 percent of school can leave students behind their peers, and students overall are struggling to make up for learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our definition of 10 percent absenteeism is not random. “There’s a reason for this, it’s because studies have shown pretty clearly that when you’ve lost 10 percent of your schooling you’re going to experience academic impacts on top of all the other losses,” board member Michael said last year. Moriarty. . “Families may work very hard to have absences excused whenever they can, but that does not diminish academic outcomes.”

On Tuesday, Johnston said, “We know that districts, families and students have been working together to improve attendance. And we are pleased to see these numbers moving in the right direction. But in no way are we done, in no way are we done.”

Before COVID-19 school closures, about 13 percent of students used to be considered chronically absent.

Chronic absenteeism has increased across the country and in all grades.

When asked by Board of Education President Katherine Craven what caused the change in attendance, Johnston responded that there has been a concerted effort to raise awareness among families.

“The way our districts and families have really worked together, to engage families more successfully, engage students more intentionally, and create a learning environment where students come to school and feel that sense of connection, that feeling of being known and valued,” he said.

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper said her district, which is the largest in the state, has also seen a decrease in the number of students facing significant absences.

He said the problem is worse in high schools. At the height of the problem in 2021, more than 35 percent of high school students in Massachusetts were missing more than 10 percent of school.

Officials have attributed these absences to illnesses from COVID-19 or other viruses, the effects of Long Covid on young people, an increase in mental health problems in teenagers and children, as well as a changing culture among students and families around the need to have children. be at school every day.

“Our kids who are in high school have the ability to vote with their feet, unlike other grades where a parent makes sure a child gets to school or has that voice,” Skipper said. “And I think our high school students, for a variety of reasons, after the pandemic had some of the same awakenings as adults in wanting to make decisions or see value in things that before we just assumed they had.”

Many students got jobs during the pandemic and became accustomed to bringing money home or supporting themselves, he added. With more kids focused on work, Skipper said Boston is putting more emphasis on creating pre-career opportunities.

“This actually allows them to gain their skills, but it also allows them to get internships, job shadowing and mentoring,” Skipper said. “I think it’s really tapping into the need our young people have for that ‘why’ for them. Or, ‘why do I go to school? And I don’t feel like I’m going because the learning is irrelevant, but actually the learning is very relevant. And without it, I won’t be able to maintain a life where I want to live.’”