Increases in student absenteeism post-pandemic are linked to recent declines in NAEP scores, according to an analysis published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
On average, 22% of 4th grade public school students reported being absent five days or more in the month preceding their 2022 NAEP assessments, which is twice the percentage reported chronically absent in 2019, prior to the pandemic. For 8th graders, that rate rose to 17% in 2022 from 8% in 2019.
Absenteeism rose for both grade levels across demographics like gender, race and school type.
While the data analysis — which compared absenteeism and achievement between 2019 and 2022 — doesn't say these high absenteeism rates drove the declines in student performance, it "suggests a clear association between increases in student absenteeism and declines in NAEP scores."
Declines in reading scores for grades 4 and 8 had an especially pronounced association with rising rates of absenteeism. Math scores for 8th graders appeared to have lower association with absenteeism rates.
"On average, the increase in absenteeism was associated with a decrease in performance of one score point in each subject and grade," NCES researchers found.
Student performance on the 2022 NAEP had the steepest declines in math for both grade levels — math scores declined by 8 points for 8th graders and by 5 points for 4th graders. Reading scores also took a hit, with 3-point declines in both grades.
Score declines have historically only been by a couple of points when they happen, which made results from 2022 especially troubling for testing experts.
However, when the scores were released last year, NCES did not specify what drove the declines. In the latest research, NCES reiterated that it "cannot provide conclusive information about the causes of changes in student achievement."
Chronic absenteeism is estimated to have doubled nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic began, impacting about 16 million students by the 2021-22 school year, according to data from nonprofit Attendance Works. A survey released by NCES in 2022 also showed almost three-quarters of public schools reported chronic absenteeism as having increased since prior to the pandemic.
While researchers in the latest analysis didn't dive into whether the increased absenteeism caused the dip in scores, they said it's possible that "there could be underlying factors that account for both the increases in student absenteeism and declines in NAEP performance."
"Information like this, which shows a correlation between increases in student absenteeism and decreases in NAEP scores, provides educators and policymakers with critical insights they can use to further understand challenges facing our public schools and areas where they could provide help," said Dan McGrath, associate commissioner for assessments at NCES, in a statement emailed to K-12 Dive.