It’s not unusual for federal education data to be a school year or two behind. But it doesn’t often come with a red warning label urging “abundant caution.”

That’s how the U.S. Department of Education released chronic absenteeism data last month for the 2020-21 school year. But more recent data, available from just four states, suggests the government’s figures seriously “undercount” the problem’s scope.

If the rest of the country saw rates as high as those in California, Connecticut, Ohio, and Virginia, that would mean over 16 million students missed large chunks of the 2021-22 school year.

Compared to pre-pandemic rates in 2018-19, “we will likely see a doubling in chronic absence,” said Hedy Chang, executive director of the nonprofit Attendance Works, which teamed with researchers at Johns Hopkins University to analyze the federal data. Those numbers showed that 10.1 million students missed at least 10% of the 2020-21 school year.

One reason Chang suspects the federal count to be too low is because of the leap in chronic absenteeism in those four states. For example, the federal count shows 15.3% of California students were chronically absent in 2020-21. But according to School Innovation and Achievement, a company that works with districts to improve attendance, 27.4% of students were in the chronic to severe range last year — a time when schools were mostly open.

Read the full article about chronic absenteeism by Linda Jacobson at The 74.