New FutureEd research shows that while many states are seeing slight progress in reducing chronic absenteeism–defined as students missing 10 percent or more of the school year–all are still far from returning to pre-pandemic attendance levels.
FutureEd has created a tracker showing rates of chronic absenteeism from the last pre-pandemic school year, 2018-19, the 2021-22 school year, and 2022-23, the most recent complete school year.
Most states showed some recovery from the pandemic-related spike in absenteeism in the 2021-22 school year. But the recovery has been modest. Of the 31 states and the District of Columbia that have released 2022-23 absenteeism data, 21 reported improvements in chronic absenteeism rates of five percentage points or fewer. The greatest recovery occurred in Michigan, where chronic absenteeism fell 7.7 percentage points to 30.8 percent, still well above its 2018 chronic absenteeism rate of 20 percent.
At the same time, to date, five states have reported increases in chronic absenteeism from 2021-22 to 2022-23: Iowa, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina. The differences range from a .5 percentage-point increase in Oklahoma to an increase of nearly five percentage points in Iowa.
Chronic absenteeism often signals that students are experiencing untreated health needs, transportation problems, mental health issues, or other significant challenges. When many students attend school irregularly, teachers can’t move through the curriculum at their usual pace, which hurts the academic progress of students who are attending regularly as well as absentees.
Because chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, states and districts have traditionally gathered and released rates of chronic absence after the school year has ended. The lack of real-time data may be hurting efforts to address the absenteeism problem.
As of mid-October 2023, Rhode Island was the only state that had developed a publicly available, real-time dashboard that could spot the number of students in each school who were on track to miss more than 10 percent of the school year.