1-in-5 Illinois students chronically truant thanks to COVID-19 mandates

1-in-5 Illinois students chronically truant thanks to COVID-19 mandates

Illinois students were missing – in masses – during the COVID-19 restrictions on in-person learning. As a result, nearly 20% fewer students met math and English proficiency standards.

Illinois public schools were missing 20% of their students so often that they were considered chronically absent this past school year – missing 10% of classes – and it showed in significantly lower test scores.

High rates of absenteeism were accompanied by a drop in academic achievement, revealing 17% fewer students met grade-level standards for English proficiency while 18% missed benchmarks for math, according to the state’s recently released school report card.

Illinois State Board of Education administrators said the increase in “failing grades” is reflected by a 5% drop in the rate of ninth grade students on-track to graduate from Illinois high schools.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala attributed the dip in student performance to the “significant impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on attendance and consequential reliance on remote learning.

With fewer than 1-in-10 Illinois students attending fully in-person classes since the beginning of COVID-19, Ayala said students “this past school year bore the brunt of the pandemic.”

“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,” Ayala said in a statement. “Students and educators have lost so much and lived and learned through unthinkable obstacles, but loss is not the whole story.”

“We know we have a steep road ahead of us to help students regain skills in math and reading, and we are confident that we have the funding, supports, and talent in our schools to climb that hill.”

Alongside declining grades and attendance rates, Illinois’ public schools experienced a significant decline in enrollment statewide during the pandemic.

Nearly 70,000 fewer students were enrolled at Illinois public schools in 2021, including more than 10,000 students who were missing from Chicago Public Schools.

ISBE officials said the 2.5% drop in public-school enrollment statewide – more than twice the average student departures reported in a typical year – mirrored declining enrollment rates seen in other states.

While the state-level data is preliminary and reflects about 90% of Illinois schools, districts gained access to the school and district aggregate data for a correction period on Nov. 1, according to ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews.

Unlike in previous years, the report card data is being released in two batches after the testing window was extended last spring from March 15 through May 28 because of the pandemic. The district-specific data is slated for release Dec. 2.

Gov. J.B Pritzker issued a statement that Illinois’ 2021 report card illustrates “the tremendous challenges the pandemic has created for school-aged children the world over.”

“As we move forward, helping our children process this experience and restoring their learning must sit at the heart of every action,” he said.

Pritzker’s statewide school mask mandate remains in effect, with no end date established. He initially said he would let local school districts decide whether masking was right for their students, but weeks later he imposed the mandate, saying too few districts were meeting his definition of the correct choice.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends” universal masking for all students, staff and visitors in U.S. schools. Masks impact language and social-emotional learning for some students, so some schools have resisted forcing students to wear them and faced swift punishment from Pritzker’s administration.

Illinois schools have received more than $7 billion in federal funding to address the impact of the pandemic on student outcomes.

ISBE officials said it has directed pandemic relief funding to close the digital divide, provide mental health supports to students and educators, and assist students transitioning to college after graduation.

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