Illinois Student Test Scores Improve, But High Absenteeism Persists

According to the latest report card from the Illinois State Board of Education, public school students in Illinois have seen improvements in English language arts and math test scores. There has also been an increase in high school graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced courses. However, despite these gains, the scores have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In a press conference, State Superintendent Tony Sanders expressed pride in the progress made, but acknowledged that there is still more work to be done in the recovery process. He emphasized the need to continue moving forward and overcoming the challenges that remain.

The annual report card provides valuable information for families and educators, allowing them to assess how their district and school compare to others across the state. The report includes data on various metrics such as test scores, enrollment, graduation rates, teacher retention, and participation in advanced coursework and career and technical education programs.

The report card revealed positive news for Illinois districts that have been working towards helping students recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Efforts such as hiring more staff, implementing after-school programs, and offering summer learning opportunities have been instrumental in addressing the learning gaps. Many of these initiatives were funded through the $7 billion in federal COVID relief funding that the state received. However, with the expiration of the federal relief funding in September 2024, public schools will need to find alternative ways to sustain these programs. Chicago Public Schools, for example, is already projecting a budget deficit of $391 million for the upcoming school year.

Test scores show improvement but have not reached pre-pandemic levels

According to the report card, reading scores in Illinois have continued to improve, while math scores have not shown the same level of progress. The report highlights that all student groups have made significant gains, with Black students showing the most improvement. The impact of the pandemic was particularly significant for Black students, who experienced longer periods of remote learning compared to other students during the 2020-2021 school year.

In the 2023 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), which is used to measure student proficiency, 35.4% of students in third to eighth grade demonstrated proficiency in reading, marking a 5.2 percentage point increase compared to the previous year. In math, 27% of students achieved proficiency, a 1.6 percentage point increase. However, these scores are still lower than the pre-pandemic levels of 37.8% proficiency in English language arts and 31.8% proficiency in math, recorded in 2019.

Chicago Public Schools reported that 26% of students were proficient in English Language Arts on the 2023 IAR test, compared to 27.3% in 2019. In math, 17.5% of students passed, compared to 23.6% in 2019.

Due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, students were unable to take the spring assessment in 2020. Participation rates varied in 2021 as some schools offered the exam in the spring or fall. However, participation rates returned to normal in 2022.

For 11th graders who took the SAT, proficiency rates in reading and math were lower in 2023 compared to 2019. In 2023, 31.6% of students were considered proficient in reading, while 26.7% were considered proficient in math. These rates were lower than the 36.2% proficiency in reading and 34.4% proficiency in math recorded in 2019.

Increase in enrollment for English learners

Overall enrollment in Illinois public schools has been decreasing steadily, with over 11,500 fewer students enrolled in the 2022-23 school year compared to the previous year. State Superintendent Tony Sanders attributed this decline to the decrease in birth rates both nationally and in Illinois. However, there has been an increase in enrollment of Latino and Asian American students, while white and Black student enrollment has decreased.

The report card highlights that English language learners have seen the largest increase in enrollment over the past five years. The state board acknowledged that it is challenging to determine the exact number of students who are migrants from Central America or refugees from Ukraine or Afghanistan.

High rate of chronic absenteeism among students

Chronic absenteeism remains a significant issue in Illinois, with approximately 28% of students being chronically absent during the last school year. This represents a slight decrease compared to the previous year, which saw a chronic absenteeism rate of approximately 29.8%. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing about 18 days or 10% of school, regardless of the reason for the absence.

The report card reveals that chronic absenteeism rates vary among different student groups. Black, Native American, and Latino students have higher rates of chronic absenteeism. However, there have been improvements in school attendance for these groups compared to the previous year. In the last school year, chronic absenteeism rates were particularly high among students from low-income families, students experiencing homelessness, and students with Individualized Education Programs.

Similar patterns of chronic absenteeism are seen across the country. Attendance Works, a nonprofit organization that examines attendance rates nationwide, has reported that approximately 27.9% of students were chronically absent during the 2022-23 school year, which is a 2.2% decrease compared to the previous year.

Improvements in graduation rates

High school graduation rates have shown improvement in Illinois. The data indicates that students who graduated in the spring of 2023 had the highest graduation rate in 13 years, excluding the inflated rates in 2019-20 due to changes in graduation requirements during the pandemic. The graduation rate for the last school year was 87.6%, representing a 1.4% increase from 2019 and a 3.8% increase since 2011.

When analyzing graduation rates by race and ethnicity, Black and Latino students saw significant gains compared to 2019. The graduation rate for Black students increased by 3.6% to 80.1%, while the graduation rate for Latino students increased by 6.3% to 88.5%.

During the press conference, Superintendent Tony Sanders attributed the increase in graduation rates for Black students to the evidence-based funding formula. He highlighted the investments made by local school districts in supporting students of color, which have led to significant improvements in student proficiency, graduation rates, and other key indicators.

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