‘Extreme absenteeism’ increases during pandemic, according to research on GTA boards

Extreme absenteeism, when students miss more than 50 percent of classes, skyrocketed during the pandemic, a new study found that looked at five large boards of directors in the greater Toronto area.

The study, which examined enrollment data for more than 630,500 students, reported an increase in the highest level of absences, as well as “chronic” absenteeism, when students miss more than 10 percent of class time.

Extreme absenteeism was found to be more common in elementary students studying online, and “the 4,759 students in remote education who missed more than 50 percent of days between September and December 2020 would be considered at high risk of outcomes. adverse education, “says the report, released on Friday.

“There’s a ton of research, across North America, pointing to chronic absenteeism as a really significant factor in student success,” said study coordinator Kelly Gallagher-Mackay of Wilfrid Laurier University, who worked with research departments at public meetings in Toronto, Peel, Durham and York, as well as Halton Catholic, examining data from last September through December.

“Typically, a 10 percent absenteeism level is a huge red flag in the system that something is happening,” he said, noting that previous research has linked a lack of classes with lower levels of school completion, increased drug use and participation in risky behaviors. by students.

“We had two concerns with this report: what is happening with these chronic absences, what changes are happening there,” he added. “The other concern is that the children were potentially missing” and the system would lose sight of them, considering that some were missing more than half of the classes.

That absenteeism increased during the COVID pandemic is not a huge surprise, he added, especially given that public health advised students to stay home if they were not feeling well and students exposed to COVID would have to isolate themselves. As a result, chronic absenteeism was more prevalent among students who opted for in-person learning.

But “the 50 percent limit changed dramatically” and increased six-fold, he said. “That is the one that worries everyone … six times more, with a very gradual increase in the resources that are given to the boards of directors to address this very serious problem.”

And with remote learning, “it’s easier to get lost. That’s one of the big concerns about online education – that we could lose kids more deeply. “

Because absence reports during the pandemic may not have been as reliable as in the past, the problem is something boards are keeping an eye on this year.

David Cameron, senior manager for research and development for the Toronto District School Board, said it is important to track absenteeism because it affects children in the long term.

“If you lose more than 10 percent of elementary school attendance, then you are at greater risk of not going to higher education,” he said.

The meeting average is usually around 8.5 percent, but he cautioned that during the disruption it was more difficult to take attendance.

He said that while chronic absenteeism increased about two percent last year, the board is also seeing “high levels of resilience, with 90 percent of students in grades 6-12 saying ‘I’m in.'” recognizing how difficult pandemic learning has been.

“Our biggest concern is understanding the content, what the kids come to the table with,” especially given the lower-than-usual kindergarten enrollment, Cameron said.

Gallagher-Mackay said the higher-than-usual absence rates also raise concerns “that children’s disconnection from school is increasing, and connection to school is incredibly important for all sorts of things.”

And with data from around the world showing that children have fallen behind academically during the pandemic, in some cases two years ago in reading, the province needs to spend more to help these children succeed, he added.

The study did not look at absences from high school given the different models used by the boards, with virtual or blended learning between home and school, and said the data was not consistent, but it raises concerns about teens being ” cheat “in high school during the pandemic.

The study examined 630,000 students out of the two million in the province. The percentage of elementary students who were absent more than half the time increased from pre-pandemic levels from 0.3% to 2%, for a total of more than 8,500 children.

Gallagher-Mackay noted that a board has only one full-time social worker for every 287 students with high levels of absenteeism.

Kindergarten enrollment dropped by more than five percent, or 4,500 students, which is believed to reflect parental concerns about younger children being able to handle safety protocols.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said the province spent $ 85 million on summer remedial programs and has expanded tutoring and support in math and language arts.

He also told the Star that he “can look forward to seeing supports in the future to help the kids get back on track.”

The York Region District School Board has a new care and learning plan focused on the well-being of students, which includes monitoring attendance and ensuring they are supported, said Superintendent Shawn Bredin, who oversees the research and evaluation. .

“From our consultations this year with students and families, they want meaningful and better ways to stay connected with schools and with their peers, as well as having high-quality curriculum and assessments,” he said.


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