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Over 20% of Conn. K-12 Students Chronically Absent in 2020

A report co-authored by the state and the national organization Attendance Works found that chronic absence increased by more than 8 percent compared to 2019, particularly among Black, Hispanic and high-needs students.

(TNS) — Chronic absence among Connecticut students increased from about 12 percent to more than 20 percent during the 2020-2021 school year as COVID-19 disrupted learning, according to a recently released report from the state education department and Attendance Works, a national organization focused on improving school attendance.

While attendance rates across learning models improved later on in the school year, predominately remote students tended to have higher rates of chronic absence than students who participated in more in-person learning.

Students who have an attendance rate of 90 percent or less are considered by the state to be chronically absent. Researchers have found that frequent school absences impact students’ academic success and social and emotional wellbeing, and are linked to a higher probability of dropping out of high school. Students living in poverty are also less likely to have access to the resources necessary to make up for lost learning time, the report said.

In the past year, children were marked as present if they attended for half of the school day in any learning model. For remote students, the state said attendance markings can be based on time spent in virtual classes and meetings, time logged into online learning platforms and assignment submission and completion. Data was collected by the state on a monthly basis, and the report focused on the September-November and January-March periods.

In the study, students fell into one of three categories depending on how many days they were scheduled to attend school in-person. Predominately in-person students were scheduled to attend classes in person more than 75 percent of the time, hybrid students were scheduled to attend in person 25-75 percent of the time and predominately remote students were scheduled to attend in person less than 25 percent of the time.

Overall, about 477,000 students were represented in the state’s data collection. Thirteen percent were in-person, 48 percent hybrid and 38 percent remote. Half the students were white, 28 percent Hispanic or Latino, 13 percent Black or African American and 9 percent were members of other racial and ethnic groups, the report said. More than 40 percent qualified for free or reduced-price meals, 16 percent were students with disabilities and 8 percent were learning English.

Predominately remote students had higher rates of chronic absence than in-person or hybrid students; absence rates among all learning models fell in the winter-early spring

Across grade levels, students learning in a predominately remote model experienced more chronic absence than students learning in hybrid or predominately in-person models.

From September to November, just over 10 percent of elementary and middle school students learning mostly in-person were chronically absent, while close to 20 percent of hybrid students were chronically absent. At the high school level, slightly more than 15 percent of in-person and hybrid students were chronically absent, along with nearly 30 percent of mostly remote students. At the elementary and middle school levels, between 20-25 percent and 25-30 percent of predominately online students were chronically absent.

By January-March, the percentage of chronically absent students dropped across all grade levels and learning models, although absence among mostly remote students remained the highest. Between 5-10 percent of elementary and middle school students were chronically absent, along with 10-15 percent of hybrid students at those grade levels. Just under 15 percent of remote elementary school students were chronically absent, while that number for middle school and high school students ranged between 15-20 percent. Both in-person and hybrid high school students had the same percentage of chronically absent students, slightly more than 10 percent.

Still, the odds of being chronically absent in January-March were about 17 times higher for students who were chronically absent in fall compared to students who missed less than 5 percent of total school days in the fall.

Researchers said the drop in chronic absence could relate to schools offering more predominately in-person learning in January-March than in the fall. They noted that throughout the school year, “attendance during in-person days was better than on remote instructional days,” and “the percent of districts offering in-person learning increased from approximately 50 percent of districts in mid-January to 70 percent of districts by the end of March.”

“The reduction in chronic absence could also reflect the results of intentional efforts to partner with students and families to address attendance barriers,” the report said, citing the state’s large investments technology and connecting families with other resources.

“Some districts also used their data to encourage students with poor attendance to shift to in-person learning,” researchers added.

Black and Hispanic students, as well as high-needs students, had significantly higher rates of chronic absence than other students

Throughout the fall and winter, Black or African American students and Hispanic or Latino students had chronic absence rates “that were two to three times higher compared to rates for either white students or students from all other races,” researchers said, noting the data reflects racial disparity patterners from previous years.

However, the analysis revealed that patterns of chronic absenteeism among students by learning model and grade varied across racial and ethnic groups. For example, the report said, 40 percent of Black or African American students in their junior year of high school were chronically absent — the highest rate of any grade level in that demographic. But Hispanic or Latino students learning mostly online in ninth grade had a higher rate of chronic absence than Hispanic or Latino students in any other grade level, also about 40 percent. Within the category of white students, remote learners in eighth grade had the highest chronic absenteeism rates, about 20 percent.

Students with low-income backgrounds, who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices, had two to three times the chronic absence rates of wealthier students “revealing a strong and continued connection between chronic absence and poverty,” researchers added. Students learning English and students with disabilities also had higher absenteeism rates than students who did not fall into those categories, across learning models. Male students were slightly more likely than female students to be chronically absent.

Going forward, the report recommended states and localities continue to collect and track daily attendance information by learning models and publish their findings publicly, as Connecticut has done on its EdSight platform.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.