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Rate of chronic absenteeism in Massachusetts public schools is down, but not enough

A school bus in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Jill Kaufman
A school bus in West Springfield, Massachusetts.

The rate of chronic students absenteeism in Massachusettspublic schools has decreased by almost five percentage points in the past year, according to state education officials.

Russell Johnston, the acting Commissioner of Education, provided data Tuesday to state Board of Education members at their regular monthly meeting.

"Let's keep this in mind," Johnston said, "24.5 [% of students] in March of 2023, to 19.6 [% of students] just this March."

More work needs to be done to reach pre-pandemic levels of about 13%, Johnston said.

The decrease represents almost 45,000 fewer students considered to be chronically absent. Johnston credited educators for getting more students back to school, helping raise awareness about the issue and working with families to engage students.

"We know that a lot of students have been absent because of continued worries about illness, mental health issues and then just a change in habits," Johnston said.

It's been effective to address all three challenges Johnston said.

The state's top education officials were reminded that in June, the board will hold an extra meeting to discussstudent data that looks at academic fallout from the pandemic.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."