Stories of what’s known as “chronic absenteeism,” or when a student misses 10% or more of the school year — have become more common in New Mexico since the pandemic.

When it comes to the rest of the country, New Mexico seems to be worse off than most.

In the 2021-2022 school year, New Mexico found itself in the top five of all analyzed states and jurisdictions in overall rates of chronic absenteeism, according to data collected, analyzed and released Friday by The Associated Press and Stanford University educational economist Thomas Dee.

Top five jurisdictions in chronic absenteeism

Source: AP


Chronic absenteeism rates, ’21-’22



District of Columbia


New Mexico






In terms of how much that number grew since the 2018-2019 school year, which was used as a pre-pandemic baseline, New Mexico took the top spot among about 40 states whose data from both years was compared with a roughly 23 percentage-point increase.

States with the highest increases of absenteeism since the pandemic

Source: AP


Chronic absenteeism rate changes, ’18-’19 to ’21-’22

New Mexico










And it’s not clear how long it will take to make up for those losses.

“We know we’re not where we need to be both in terms of attendance and in student outcomes,” state Public Education Department Assistant Secretary Greg Frostad told the Journal. “We really do want to return to pre-COVID attendance rates. I don’t know that that’s realistic by the end of the current school year, but that’s where we want to be within the next several years.”

New Mexico has heavily invested in helping students come to school, Frostad said, pointing out that showing up for class is critical for learning.

But much of the support students battling chronic absenteeism need, Frostad said, have to come at the district level.

Rio Rancho initiatives

Rio Rancho Public Schools has seen a drop in attendance since the COVID-19 pandemic and has put together a plan to bring the numbers back up, including a goal of reducing absenteeism by 20% per school site.

“Before the pandemic, we had pretty good attendance,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, but then they “lost” about 1,000 kids “almost overnight” during the pandemic. While the district has re-established contact with most of them, attendance numbers are still down post-pandemic.

“The whole challenge after the pandemic, though, is that the attitude has changed,” Cleveland said, with more and more students being chronically absent. “The attendance is frightening and does not bode well for their future. We’re in a different world today.”

And, she said, the district is not seeing trends based on cultural or economic class structures. It’s across the board, “up to the valedictorian.”

Some students, said Beth Pendergrass, chief communications, strategy and engagement officer for the district, had 90-plus absences.

Part of the RRPS attendance plan implemented for 2023-24 includes working on engagement and reaching out to families to see why students may be absent. “The most disturbing finding is parents saying they can’t get their kid to school,” Cleveland said.

RRPS attendance plan cover

Courtesy RRPS

Pendergrass said the expectations are on everyone to make the plan work: parents, students, teachers and the district. So far this year, she said, there’s been a better start. 

“We’re trying to put as much focus on the positive as we can,” she added.

However, the new expectations will be firm and enforced fairly across the board. That included 85% attendance for class credit. Those who are absent more than that will be required to participate in a program designed to recover the credit.

Additionally, there is no more differentiation between excused and unexcused absences at the state and federal level, so all missed days will count the same unless it’s due to a school activity.

The district is also encouraging more engagement in the classroom. “I believe if you’re in a good class, you’ll learn more,” Cleveland said. And, if a student finds the course engaging, they are more likely to attend.

The plan document states it more plainly: “We also believe that teachers should lead classes that are engaging and not simply work on Chromebooks and PowerPoints.”

Pendergrass said that during the pandemic, the conversation around the technology tools is changing, noting that during remote learning and the immediate aftermath, they may have been used as more of a crutch than a tool. 

“If you’re using it to avoid conversations with the kids, then they might as well stay at home,” she said.

The RRPS officials also said there will be a crackdown on turning assignments in on time. “Students were getting in the habit of turning work in late … and it was not at the caliber it needed to be at,” Cleveland said, referencing the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

“We thought it was the right thing to do in COVID but now see it’s not helping,” she said. “We’re not doing kids any favors by lowering expectations. … Now we’ve got to go back and undo that.”

To that end, the plan also de-emphasizes the directive to post assignments and week-at-a-glance documents on Google Classroom. “There is value in attending class. Administrators are dedicated to making sure teachers are leading classes that are engaging,” the plan document reads. “A student who misses class is missing important information, discussions and interaction with their teachers and classmates. Students who are absent will need to contact the teacher to receive the assignments they have missed.”

By the numbers

Last school year, over half of New Mexico students facing homelessness or housing insecurity were chronically absent — the highest of any student group, according to a recent Legislative Education Study Committee analysis, seeing a staggering chronic absenteeism rate of nearly 53%.

Tailing them were Indigenous students, who were about 45% chronically absent, and then the rest of the student groups identified in the landmark Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit — economically disadvantaged students, English learners and those with disabilities, all of whom hovered around 40%.

For all students, that number was around 35% last school year. Numbers for each of those student groups last school year were lower than they were the school year before, which saw the peak of chronic absenteeism over the last five years.

New Mexico chronic absenteeism by student groups

Source: LESC

Student groups

Chronic absenteeism rates, ’22-’23

Homeless/housing insecure students


Indigenous students


Students with disabilities


English learners


Economically disadvantaged students




The Associated Press found that in several states, Indigenous students were among the student groups that face the highest rates of chronic absenteeism.

Part of why Indigenous students miss so much school, Frostad acknowledged, is a lack of “culturally and linguistically responsive curriculum,” which can mean access to learning in and about Native languages.

Culturally relevant education is an issue advocates have frequently raised, and one that was identified by a judge’s findings in the Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit as important for providing Native American students the same quality of education as schools do for non-Native American students.

“We certainly are not seeing the attendance rates that we need to see for Native American students,” Frostad said. “I think that is a reflection that the instruction that’s being provided in schools today is not meeting their needs.”

Students facing homelessness face their own set of challenges in getting to class, among them a lack of transportation to school, not having appropriate clothes for school and food insecurity.

Some of those needs are addressed by the state’s community schools initiative, which Frostad said helps centralize the services they need into one location. Last school year, 69 schools received state funding and were implementing or planning to implement the community schools strategy, according to an LESC analysis.

Although all cite PED data, there is also a slight discrepancy in The Associated Press and Dee’s New Mexico analysis — which is consistent with what the PED shows on its online attendance dashboard — and the one from the LESC.

For example, in the 2021-2022 school year, the former cited a statewide chronic absenteeism rate of 40.4%. The latter, on the other hand, found 37.9%.

“That report also references ‘22-’23 data that we have not yet certified,” Frostad said, referring to the LESC report. “So I don’t know what data … they used.”