Whatever you’ve heard about student absenteeism during the pandemic, it’s likely worse than you thought.

Not only are more students missing school, but they’re missing far more days than in past years — some absent as much as half the year. Younger students, who usually have better attendance rates than high schoolers, are racking up absences at unprecedented levels. And disadvantaged children, who have always faced obstacles getting to class, are recording alarmingly high rates of absenteeism. That doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands of students who aren’t even enrolled in school this year.

These trends emerged from our deep dive into attendance data from five school districts enrolling a total of nearly 450,000 students and working with EveryDay Labs attendance interventions. The spiraling rates of absenteeism are intensifying a problem that was already pervasive before the pandemic and could have devastating consequences for student learning.

As policymakers and educators explore how to spend billions in federal relief aid to help students catch up, they’ll need to include a concerted effort to turn around absenteeism if they hope to get kids back on track.

None of the strategies that schools are contemplating to close learning gaps will do much good if they don’t close attendance gaps. A 2016 study from the RAND Corp. found summer learning programs showed little impact on achievement — unless students attend at least 80 percent of the time. Likewise, extended-day programs work best for students who attend regularly, a 2007 University of California, Irvine study showed. Tutoring works best when it’s high frequency: at least 2.5 hours a week for at least 16 weeks.

We know that chronic absenteeism — missing at least 10 percent of the school year in excused or unexcused absences — is linked to weaker academic performance: A robust body of research shows a clear connection between lower grades and higher dropout rates. In that context, the current surge in absenteeism is a warning sign of further academic challenges ahead for students and schools.

Fortunately, there are evidence-based interventions that can help schools address this, some of which align with other efforts to reduce the impact of lost learning time.

Read the full article about this analysis on chronic absenteeism by Phyllis W. Jordan and Emily Bailard at The 74.