Almost three years since schools had to shut down because of COVID-19, states are still trying to re-engage students. But some may have permanently disconnected. A report from the Associated Press and Stanford University estimates around 230,000 students are unaccounted for in 21 states. In Colorado, more than 9,000 students have disappeared without a recorded explanation.
Johann Liljengren, director of dropout prevention and student reengagement with the Colorado Department of Education, pointed to a few factors leading to those numbers.
One is that private school enrollment isn’t always accurately reported to school districts, and the state doesn’t collect that data. Home school families also may not report to their districts. Some families switched to private or home because of disruptions in public schools during the pandemic.
Kindergarten enrollment has fallen in recent years. Colorado doesn’t require students to attend kindergarten.
But Liljengren acknowledged that there are students who simply aren’t going to school anymore. In the 2021-2022 school year, 10,524 students in grades 7-12 dropped out. That was an increase of 2.2% from the year before.
Liljengren said another concern is students who are chronically absent, which is defined as missing 10% of school days.
“About one in three of every Colorado student was chronically absent this last year. There are lots of reasons why that might have gone up, but we're really seeing it at a minimum lower signs of engagement and less time that students are having with their teachers and engaged in that learning,” Liljengren said.
He said districts are seeing more students who need dropout interventions and support. It’s harder to get a student back once they’ve already left school.
“This is one where we're trying to figure out — how do we help between districts, who is in charge of trying to find that student and find a school connection that can be helpful for them. So that's kind of our most intensive work,” Linjengren said.