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State educators look to address achievement gaps by boosting resources

teen boy
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A teenage boy

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate the learning gap between students of color and their white classmates, according to state data. Educators said one way to help close that gap is to address chronic absenteeism.

Government officials and educators met Wednesday for the quarterly meeting of the state’s Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap.

A presentation was made by Attendance Works, a nonprofit that studies chronic absenteeism and provides community solutions. Connecticut data showed that chronic absenteeism spiked over the last two years among low-income families, especially for Latino, African American and Black ninth-graders students.

That increase is worrying, said Attendance Works founder Hedy Chang, because it can be an early predictor of more students dropping out of high school if left unaddressed.

“Everyone was hoping for a different reopening of school, where we could help to start to making up for all of the lost learning opportunities during COVID, and that’s not what happened unfortunately this fall,” Chang said.

According to Chang, the pandemic, transportation shortages and school climate are all reasons that students may be absent from class. She said that going back and forth between hybrid and in-person instruction disrupts the learning experience.

To soften that disruption, schools need to reinvest in basic needs like learning support and building positive relationships, she said.

State Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said attendance is a precursor to engagement, and engagement is a precursor to learning.

“Being present matters, and we continue to be focused on doing that here in Connecticut,” Russell-Tucker said.

The council will meet again in March to discuss behavioral health.