A new report on the nearly $25 million initiative to combat chronic student absenteeism in Connecticut reveals only modest gains.
Despite the mixed results, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Charlene M. Russell-Tucker dubbed the program, called the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP), “successful” in an announcement about the report’s release.
Kids are considered chronically absent if they miss 10% or more of school days in a year. Chronic absenteeism in Connecticut remains nearly double what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, the report from the Connecticut Department of Education touts LEAP as “highly effective” despite what appears to be meager progress according to statistics in the report and other data released by the department in August.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic absenteeism in the state was at 10.4%. A year later, that nearly doubled to 19%, and after the return to full-time learning in 2021-22, it increased further to 23.7%. During the 2022-23 school year, absenteeism finally fell, but less than four percentage points to 20% – still double the state’s pre-pandemic numbers.
Moreover, according to the LEAP report, since the program began only 8,690 students from 15 participating districts have received interventions. When the cost of the program is broken down per pupil receiving interventions, the figure is more than $2,800 per student.
After the first home visit, attendance improved by 4%. In subsequent months, this number reached 7% for students visited in the summer of 2021 and 15% for students visited during the 2021-22 school year.
One statistical outlier was Hartford Public Schools, where attendance rates improved by 30% six months after the first intervention.
Results from the program also varied by demographic. Pre-K-5 student attendance increased by 8% nine months after the first home visit. Students in grades 6-12 experienced a 16% increase in attendance. Non-English language learning students also experienced better intervention outcomes than English-language learners on average.
All but seven districts in the program reportedly saw some improvement in chronic absenteeism, reported the Connecticut Mirror. But seven districts saw their numbers actually grow worse, including Norwich and Bridgeport, where chronic absenteeism increased by more than 8% and 4%, respectively.
For all the money invested in LEAP, many are still hopeful about what the future holds.
“The results look promising, but I agree that there needs to be some follow-ups and [the state needs to] continue to look at this to make sure that … it’s having the effect that we want it to be having,” Steve Stemler, a researcher who contributed to the LEAP report, told the Mirror.
“In a time of continual uncertainty and unprecedented challenges and loss, outreach from a trusted adult connected to the school and acting as an ally for one’s child and family is an invaluable strategy for encouraging students and families to show up at school,” said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works.
LEAP started in 2021 as an initiative between the education department and six Regional Education Service Centers across the state, to reengage with students and families as schools shut down during the pandemic.
The program was funded by $10.7 million of the state’s federal Governor Emergency Education Relief dollars. In both 2022 and 2023, the Connecticut General Assembly appropriated an additional $7 million to the program from the state’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
LEAP uses a relational home-based and targeted student invention model to support the families of students struggling with school attendance.
“Home visits are scheduled opportunities for a pair of home visitors to go to the home (or other parent-preferred location) of a student to meet with a parent or guardian for the purpose of strengthening the school-family relationship in a positive and relational manner,” the LEAP report says.
Home visitors are school staff, administrators, teachers, family liaisons or local community partners who are paid by the state for their time. Ideally, the report says, “families receive multiple home visits that support building relationships over time.”
Chronic absenteeism is not just a problem facing Connecticut. Since the pandemic, over 25% of public school students nationwide have missed at least 10% of classes— 10 points higher than only a few years prior.
“The long-term consequences of disengaging from school are devastating. And the pandemic has absolutely made things worse, and for more students,” Chang told the AP.