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Rising Absenteeism Since Onset of Pandemic Associated with NAEP 2022 Score Declines

Students reading in a classroom.

Since releasing the 2022 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has continued to examine relationships between performance and opportunities to learn. One important contextual factor is school attendance.

To gain an understanding of how increases in student absenteeism since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic may have been related with declines in student achievement, NCES, with input from the Council of Economic Advisers, analyzed 2019 and 2022 NAEP data. This blog post provides an overview of those findings. NAEP data cannot provide conclusive information about the causes of changes in student achievement, but our analysis suggests a clear association between increases in student absenteeism and declines in NAEP scores.

NCES’s School Pulse Panel results show that almost three-quarters of public schools reported (in May of 2022) that chronic absenteeism has increased since before the pandemic. Survey data collected as part of the NAEP 2022 assessments corroborate this finding.

On average, twenty-two percent of fourth-grade public school students reported being absent 5 days or more in the month preceding the date they took the NAEP assessment—double the percentage in 2019. Results across states and by student groups reveal similar patterns. In fact, fourth-graders reported increased absenteeism in every state where data are reportable. And students with different demographic characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, region of the country, and school locale) all reported increased absenteeism. The results are similar at grade 8.

The chart below shows the average score declines from 2019 to 2022 in each subject and grade listed. The bracketed area of the decline shows what percentage of the decline can be associated with rising absenteeism rates after controlling for any changes in the demographic characteristics of the student population during that time period.

Reported NAEP average score declines in 2022 from 2019 and percentage of declines associated with the rising rates of absenteeism, by subject and grade

A diagram showing average score declines. Grade 4 mathematics has a -5 point decline and 27% is associated with absenteeism. Grade 8 mathematics has a -8 point decline and 16% is associated with absenteeism. Grade 4 reading has a -3 point decline and 45% is associated with absenteeism. Grade 8 reading has a -3 point decline and 36% is associated with absenteeism.
NOTE: The analysis controlled for student race/ethnicity, gender, status as an English learner, eligibility for the National School Lunch program, number of books in the home, and status as a student with a disability. NAEP subject and grade scales are independent and numeric results should not be directly compared.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 and 2022 Mathematics and Reading Assessments.

Even after controlling for demographic changes in the student population over time, the increase in student absenteeism between 2019 and 2022 was associated with decreases in NAEP scores from 2019 to 2022. Please note that this analysis depicts an observed association between rising absenteeism rates and score declines, not a causal relationship (i.e., that the rising absenteeism rate is responsible for a portion of the score decline). For example, there could be underlying factors that account for both the increases in student absenteeism and declines in NAEP performance. Further research would be needed to determine whether increased absenteeism can be causally linked to these score declines, as well as to understand the underlying reasons leading to higher absenteeism. However, the observed association is large enough to explain 16 to 45 percent of the overall declines, depending on the grade and subject1.

On average, the increase in absenteeism was associated with a decrease in performance of one score point in each subject and grade.

Understanding the myriad of factors that contributed to student performance declines in 2022 is complex. This analysis of absenteeism singles out one important factor that policymakers and school leaders can further investigate to help support students. The Center will continue to track absenteeism rates, investigate underlying causes for absenteeism, and examine progress toward learning recovery.

1 To investigate this, regression analyses were conducted on the combined 2019 and 2022 NAEP student datasets for each subject and grade pairing to examine how much of the modelled score decline was related to changes in absenteeism after controlling for any changes in demographic characteristics of the student population. These regression models explained between 35 percent and 39 percent of the total variation in student performance in the 2019 and 2022 pooled datasets.

NAEP Plus: The Official Blog of the Nation's Report Card

This blog is very informative. I didn't know how little attention teachers pay to absenteeism.

Posted on November 3, 2023

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