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CT State Department of Education: Preliminary Data Indicates Three Percent Decline in Statewide Student Enrollment for 2020-21

Majority of Decrease Due to Delayed Start of PK and Kindergarten, Homeschooling, and Fewer New Students Enrolling; CSDE Highlights State and District Efforts to Support Stronger Attendance and Engagement

(Hartford) - The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) today announced that districts have reported preliminary enrollment numbers that indicate a 3 percent decrease in total statewide student enrollment. The rate of this one-year decline is similar to declines seen previously over a five-year period. The greatest declines occurred in the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten grades which may be due to the fact that parents are choosing to delay the start of public schooling for their young children due to the pandemic. Additional factors contributing to the decline include an increase in the number of parents opting to home school their children and fewer new students enrolling in Grades 1 through 12.

“We are now collecting more robust, frequent student-level attendance data to help us better identify patterns early on around issues with attendance and participation, especially for our most vulnerable populations. Using these data to pinpoint areas of greatest need, we will proactively work with educators, families, and community partners to address the root causes of that absenteeism and disengagement by establishing systems of support to reach all of our students,” Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said. “A bright spot we have seen, thanks to the hard work and team effort of our districts and other partners to get kids connected and engaged, is that the number of fully remote students who are disconnected has been declining every week since schools opened – true even as the overall number of fully remote students has grown statewide.”

In September, CSDE introduced two new data collections of Enrollment and Attendance numbers to promote transparency and make data-driven decisions that support stronger student engagement and participation during the 2020-21 school year. Normally collected once a year, the new monthly collection of Student Membership and Attendance will provide more robust student level data to allow CSDE and districts to evaluate and monitor attendance and participation trends that are essential to student achievement. The results of these data collections should be interpreted with caution considering that this is a new data collection where the data include remote days of attendance and reflect some variation in the implementation of district practices. The analysis reveals that students from traditionally underperforming groups (i.e., EL, special education, free-reduced price meal eligibility) had lower attendance in September than during the 2019-20 school year. The attendance challenges were compounded among students who reflected multiple high need factors (e.g., students eligible for free lunch who were also receiving special education).

CSDE shifted this data collection from once a year to once a month in an effort to ensure appropriate support and accountability to improve engagement and attendance, and reduce chronic absenteeism for Connecticut’s most vulnerable populations, such as English learners and students receiving special education services. District-level disaggregated data by student group along with data visualizations will be used by CSDE staff to identify and support districts where attendance in September 2020 was substantially lower than in the 2019-20 school year. Since declines in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten were disproportionately greater among Connecticut’s 33 Alliance Districts and 10 Opportunity Districts, CSDE is expanding its regular meetings with these districts to include a targeted focus on supporting stronger student attendance in addition to the supports listed below. CSDE is also partnering with the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to build communities of practice and a system of supports for districts that bring together the latest research, national experts, and promising practices.

CSDE used an initial, preliminary dataset from the October 2020 Public School Information System (PSIS) collection to conduct an analysis of statewide declines in student enrollment. This preliminary estimate indicates a decline in total enrollment of 15,436 students, i.e. from 527,829 in 2019-20 to 512,393 in 2020-21, with the key reasons being*:

  • A more than 50 percent decline in the two school-entering grades of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten
    • Compared to October 2019, public pre-kindergarten enrollment fell in October 2020 by 3,727 students from 18,829 to 15,102 – a 20 percent decline.
    • Kindergarten enrollment fell by 4,343 students from 36,566 in October 2019 to 32,223 in October 2020 – a nearly 12 percent decline.
  • An increase in homeschooling of 3,024 for 2020-21.
    • Last year, Connecticut had 547 exits due to homeschooling between June and October; this year, that number is 3,571.
  • A slight decline in the cohort persistence rates in Grades 1 through 7 due to fewer new students enrolling in October, and not due to fewer students continuing from June to October.

*(Please note that these analyses are preliminary and subject to change because the October PSIS collection is still in process with districts continuing to make amendments to their submissions. Final enrollment counts for the 2020-21 school year will be published on EdSight by the end of February 2021.)

From the onset of the pandemic, CSDE has worked with partners, including the Department of Children and Families (CT DCF), SERC, and Attendance Works, to build a system of supports for districts in response to the challenges that are occurring in schools, communities and homes, including but not limited to:

  • CSDE is uncovering challenges, finding resolutions, and identifying what is working around student attendance and engagement to share via  guidance documents such as Addendum 14: Supporting Student Attendance and Engagement during Hybrid or Remote Learning, created in collaboration with CT DCF and released in September;
  • Talk Tuesdays – hosting bi-weekly virtual meetings that engage Alliance District attendance administrators and staff in open and ongoing dialogue on ways to new resources; common challenges; identified bright spots and ways to improve student engagement;
  • Advisory Team – consisting of key stakeholders to inform planning and agendas for the attendance events, community of practice, professional learning opportunities, statewide symposiums and other professional development needs that arise;
  • Community of Practice – engaging stakeholders in monthly opportunities to discuss problems of practice in student engagement in both in-person and remote learning models, e.g., ensuring the proper use of common terms and definitions, supporting English Learners, understanding the data; and
  • CSDE Professional Support Series – a series of learning opportunities for districts and families include:
  • Virtual Mentoring as a Tool to Improve Student Engagement in Remote and Hybrid Learning webinar in partnership with The Governor’s Prevention Partnership;
  • Supporting Student Attendance and Engagement during Hybrid or Remote Learning, webinar in partnership with CT DCF and Attendance Works;
  • Engaging Students and Families During COVID-19 - webinar exploring strategies for developing and strengthening relationships with students and families, and discussing how to use data to monitor participation, and how they have intervened when connections are lost or need to be reestablished.
  • Effective Engagement of Students and Families from Diverse Communities during the COVID-19 Pandemic – webinar providing guidance and best practices on how educators can promote and maintain connections with students and families of diverse backgrounds, in an effective, informed and sensitive manner.
  • Connecting and Listening to Vulnerable Families During COVID-19 – webinar on strategies for or serving low-income families in afterschool and summer programs; immigrant and emergent bilingual families; and highly mobile and homeless families.
  • NetStat – providing learning opportunities to teams from Commissioner Network Schools, Charter Schools, and SIG schools on addressing attendance at the school level;
  • Families Role in Supporting Student Attendance (Upcoming) – an attendance webinar designed for families and those who engage with families to create a common understanding student attendance terms and definitions, how and when to seek assistance; and identifying appropriate online practices in remote learning models;
  • Attendance Monitoring and Support for Students with Disabilities within a Remote Environment (Upcoming) – featuring strategies and best practices for supporting students with disabilities and their families in remote and hybrid learning models.


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