Absenteeism grew in schools during last school year, education officials say

New data released by state education officials shows the debilitating impact of the pandemic in the last school year, with chronic absenteeism up and postsecondary enrollment flat.

The state Department of Education released school performance reports for the 2020-21 school year on Wednesday, with some key performance indicators missing β€” another impact of the pandemic.

The report cards normally measure academic achievement and growth for the state’s 1.4 million students, but that performance data is blank for 2020-21 because districts suspended standardized tests and other assessments during the last school year.

Some notable trends in the reports:

  • Graduation rates fell slightly to 90.6% last year, from 91% in 2019-2020.
  • Fewer graduates headed to college, with fall postsecondary enrollment falling from 72% for 2019 graduates to 67% for 2020 graduates. The class of 2021 held steady, with 68% heading to college the fall after graduation.
  • Absenteeism rose, with 13% of students reported as chronically absent, up from 11% in 2018-19 (it was unreported in 2019-20 because of the pandemic). Chronic absenteeism was highest among unhoused students (40%), students in foster care (33%), and Black students (25%). A student is chronically absent if they miss at least 10% of school days.
  • Incidents of violence, vandalism, substance offenses, and bullying were way down, with so many schools fully or partially remote during the 2020-21 school year. About 3,150 incidents were reported last year, compared to 18,576 in 2019-20 and 28,121 in 2018-19.
  • Discipline consequently fell, with nearly 5,000 suspensions last year, compared to nearly 46,000 in 2019-20 and almost 66,000 in 2018-19.

To see how your district or school fared, click here.

Most of the trends in New Jersey mirror national trends. School bullying dropped and school absenteeism surged around the country, and more than a million fewer students are in college now nationally than before the pandemic.

Kathleen Ehling, an assistant commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Education, presents the annual school performance reports’ highlights to the state Board of Education Wednesday, reminding board members frequently that the pandemic influenced the data.

β€œIt’ll be years before we know exactly the whole impact, but we need to make sure we are making investments now so we can support our students moving forward,” Ehling said.

Angelica Allen-McMillan, the department’s acting commissioner, said the reports offer a useful starting point for conversations as schools work to recover from the pandemic.

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