ARIZONA NEWS

Report: Chronic absenteeism ‘truly a crisis’ in Arizona schools

Jan 12, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: Jan 17, 2023, 3:59 pm

(Photo by Christian Ender/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Christian Ender/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Ender/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — A new report sheds light on another way the pandemic disrupted learning for so many students in Arizona.

The report by the Helios Education Foundation finds 22% of students — or nearly 1 in 5 — were chronically absent in 2021, meaning they missed 18 or more school days. That’s higher than the typical 12%-14% reported during pre-pandemic school years.

“This issue of chronic absence and the broader lingering effects of COVID in so many other ways is I think fair to say truly a crisis,” Paul Luna, president and CEO of the Helios Education Foundation, said during a virtual media event Wednesday.

The report pointed to a wide range of reasons for students missing too much school during the pandemic, including factors related to quarantine, family health, finances and changing schools.

Luna said he is particularly concerned about how chronic absenteeism during the pandemic affected some students more than others.

Paul Perrault, senior vice president of community impact and learning for the Helios Education Foundation, pointed out Native Americans were among the most affected.

“Native American students were chronically absent a lot even before the pandemic,” he told reporters Wednesday. “It was exacerbated to the point where during the pandemic almost 1 out of every 2 Native Americans were chronically absent.”

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, English language learners, Latino students and African American students were also more strongly impacted by chronic absenteeism during the pandemic than their peers, according to the report.

Perrault noted this is concerning given these same students already have large opportunity gaps in reading, math, high school graduation rates and college going rates compared to their peers.

“If we start seeing more absences in school, we’re only going to see those gaps get bigger — and that’s a big concern,” Perrault said.

According to the report, chronic absenteeism is linked with diminished learning outcomes. It’s an issue that has been affecting many students for years in Arizona. But as Luna pointed out, the pandemic made it worse.

“There’s no way now to turn away from this spotlight that has shined on the challenges that need to be addressed,” he said, adding he hopes the report findings will help identify where targeted interventions and supports are needed.

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Report: Chronic absenteeism ‘truly a crisis’ in Arizona schools