absenteeism graph
A chart depicting chronic absenteeism levels in Connecticut from 2018-19 through 2022-23 Credit: Courtesy of the CT Department of Education / Connecticut Department of Education

Connecticut schools still lag behind pre-pandemic levels of student achievement and attendance despite improvements in both categories detailed during a Monday Department of Education press conference where officials released statistics for the 2022-23 academic year. 

State education leaders gathered at Hartford’s Legislative Office Building for a morning panel discussion where they released performance metrics for the last school year. 

Among all students, chronic absenteeism — or instances where a student missed at least 10% of an academic year’s school days — declined from 23.7% in 2021-22 to 20% in 2022-23. Those improvements find the state’s attendance numbers continuing to lag well behind pre-pandemic levels. Absenteeism was just 12.2% in 2019-20 and 10.4% in 2018-19.

“Attendance lays the foundation for effective learning, for impacting student growth and achievement and the recovery and acceleration efforts that are all focused on achieving,” Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker said. “We’re pleased to observe the improvements in attendance as well as math and science scores statewide.”

Education officials reported modest gains in student achievement assessments in both the mathematics and science categories. 

The Connecticut Performance Index found all students scoring an average of 59.7 in mathematics during the 2022-23 school year. That’s up from 58.6 in 2021-22 but beneath the average 63.1 which students scored in 2018-19. 

Science gains were slighter. Students posted an average score of 61.6 in 2022-23, up from 61.4 during the preceding year and down from 63.8 in 2018-19. 

“The improvements in chronic absenteeism as well as math and science scores should encourage us to strengthen our collective resolve and to continue working together intensively to re-engage all students in education,” Russell-Tucker said.

Meanwhile, English scores continued to decline with all students scoring an average of 63.9, down from 64.2 in 2021-22 and 67.7 in 2018-19. 

High needs students fared worse in all three academic categories during the 2022-23 school year. They scored 54.1 in English, 48.9 in mathematics, and 51.1 in sciences. High needs students were also more likely to be chronically absent at a rate of 28.5% compared to the 20% overall average. 

Although last year’s chronic absenteeism remains above pre-pandemic levels, state officials celebrated the first decline in the statistic since students have returned to classrooms following a COVID-related transition to remote learning. 

Persistent absenteeism is not a problem exclusive to Connecticut. According to the Associated Press, more than 25% of students nationwide missed at least 10% of school days during the 2021-22 academic year. 

On Monday, state officials touted the efficacy of efforts like the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program, a family outreach initiative in districts with high absentee rates. 

The agency also discussed the results of a survey of more than 5,000 families to gauge attitudes toward school attendance. Families reported illnesses as the leading reason why students missed school days, followed by mental health, anxiety and other issues. 

Kari Sullivan, attendance and engagement lead at the Education Department, said the state was making an effort to reinforce relationships with families and students to understand and address barriers to attendance. 

“This work requires a mindset shift, moving from a punitive sort of truancy approach to a more supportive chronic absenteeism approach where we get to the root cause and understand through relationships why our students aren’t coming to school,” she said.