Chicago Public Schools hit record graduation rate as math, reading scores drop

Chicago Public Schools hit record graduation rate as math, reading scores drop

Academic proficiency is down, chronic absenteeism is up and Chicago Public Schools celebrates its rates of students graduating and freshmen “on-track.”

Nearly half of Chicago Public Schools students missed at least 18 days of school last year. Just one-fifth of high school students are reading and completing math at grade level. Yet CPS celebrated a record-high graduation rate.

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Contradicting metrics in CPS

CPS students are struggling to show up to class and meet proficiency in core subjects, district data released by the Illinois State Board of Education shows. Yet the district celebrated a record-setting graduation rate and rising freshmen on-track rates.

In spring 2022, CPS leaders boasted of a record-high graduation rate after the four-year graduation rate increased by nearly 3 percentage points between 2021 and 2022. But just 23% of students in the graduating class of 2022 could read at grade level as juniors during the 2020-2021 school year. About 21% could perform math proficiently.

One academic year later, 83% of those students who had entered 9th grade in fall 2018 graduated. Nearly 85% who entered 9th grade in fall 2017 graduated.

During the same school year in which about 83% of students who completed high school in four years graduated, nearly 80% of current CPS 11th-grade students failed to meet proficiency in reading and math.

The district also celebrated a rise in freshmen on-track rates. But district data shows 10% and 26% fewer CPS students who entered high school in fall 2022 and had their middle school years interrupted by the pandemic were considered proficient in reading and math since spring 2019.

CPS did not boast about its chronic absenteeism rate – another record-setter in 2022. Nearly 45% of students were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year, nearly double the rate of absenteeism in 2019.

The pandemic exacerbated downward-spiraling trends in CPS

The pandemic and 17 months out of the classroom appear to have seriously aggravated absenteeism in the district and declines in proficiency.

Just 24% of students were chronically absent in the 2018-2019 school year, the final full school year before the pandemic. During that school year, over 26% of CPS 11th graders were at grade level in reading and 27% in math.

This spring, about 21% were proficient in reading and math. Even before the pandemic, more CPS high school students were failing to meet proficiency than performing at or above grade level. Students in CPS underperformed the state average before the pandemic and still do today.

CPS has undergone a troubling decade as enrollment has dropped and proficiency has steadily declined. This trend has continued post-pandemic: since 2019, CPS lost over 36,000 students and 20% fewer students are proficient in reading and math.

Chicago high school students continue to perform worse than the statewide average in the most recent state test data. The percent of 11th graders scoring at proficiency in reading and math in CPS was over 8 percentage points lower than the statewide average in 2022.

CPS student metrics aren’t helped by the frequent Chicago Teachers Union walkouts

The pandemic put pressure on the Chicago Public Schools system and other public school districts nationwide and exposed many of the issues already facing public schools.

But tensions between teachers unions, such as the Chicago Teachers Union, and school districts over remote learning and masking forced many students to miss additional days of instruction.

In Chicago, students missed five days of learning in January 2022 after the union walked out on students over COVID-19 protocols, giving parents just hours to scramble for a back-up plan. It was the union’s third work stoppage in three school years.

But tensions between the CTU and CPS aren’t new. During the past five years, students have missed nearly three weeks of instruction because of CTU work stoppages. Student proficiency and enrollment have declined while the militant Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators has led CTU.

The Illinois Policy Institute invites you to watch the trailer for “Local 1: The Rise of America’s Most Powerful Teachers Union” to see how Chicago students and parents have fared under an increasingly militant CTU. Sign up here for information on screenings of the full documentary and to get notified when it is released online Feb. 13.

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