It’s a painful truth already, but new numbers sharpen the picture: 61 percent of educators say that student absenteeism is higher this winter than it was in the fall of 2019, adding new urgency to questions about how to care for students who are struggling with trauma and illness during the pandemic, and how to catch them up academically.
The finding comes from an online survey administered by the EdWeek Research Center during the second half of December. About 1,200 teachers, principals, and district leaders responded.
Where absenteeism is higher, it’s not just a little bit higher: it’s up an average of 39 percent.
Remote instruction appears to play a role in absenteeism. Sixty-four percent of educators at schools that taught mostly in remote mode in 2020-21 said student absenteeism has risen, compared with 51 percent of those in schools that taught mostly face-to-face.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much of the absenteeism was excused, for accepted reasons such as illness or quarantine, and how much was unexcused. But it’s well known that students’ motivation has plummeted during the pandemic, and having to learn alone, at home, on a screen, hasn’t helped.
Experts who study school attendance say one of the biggest reasons students are absent during the pandemic is because they’ve had to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19. But fear of getting the virus, and struggles with stress, motivation, and mental health have also played roles.
The higher absenteeism echoes statewide drops in attendance that have already been reported in many states and districts. During the pandemic, many districts are also seeing more students become chronic absentees, those who miss more than 10-15 percent—depending on whose definition you use—of school.