Chronic absenteeism a growing problem in Massachusetts schools

The number of students in Massachusetts missing critical amounts of schooling has soared since before the pandemic, with a 138 percent increase in chronically absent third through eighth graders between 2019 and 2022.

In 2022, 98,000 children -- or over 28 percent of all students -- missed more than 18 days of the 180-day school year, associate commissioner in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Rob Curtin said in a presentation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.

Missing over 10 percent of the total school year labels these children “chronically absent.”

While 28 percent of all students have hit this threshold, the number is even higher in urban school districts, where 38 percent of students are considered chronically absent.

The average student missed 11 days of school in 2021 and 15 days of school in 2022 -- 26 days total over the last two school years.

He noted that most of these absences were from COVID-19 infections. A total 1.7 million days of missed school were reported to be caused by positive cases of the virus. However, over 1 million additional school days were saved as a result of the state’s test-and-stay program, Curtin said.

Of the 1.7 million missed days caused by COVID, 625,000 days were in January 2022 in the midst of the Omicron surge of the virus.”Knock on all kinds of wood that we’re not going to have that next year,” Curtin said.

The assistant commissioner presented this absenteeism data in the same presentation as a report on recent standardized testing scores, which showed a decline in student performance compared to 2019.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a statewide standardized test, revealed a 20 percent loss in students grades three through eight who are meeting grade-level expectations, with only 41 percent of students hitting this benchmark.

“It’s easy to see the loss of instruction or the loss of access to instruction as a result of missing school,” Curtin said.

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