How Illinois public school measures fail to add up

How Illinois public school measures fail to add up

Contradictory metrics statewide point to poor accountability and grade promotion standards in Illinois. Low-income parents seeking alternatives are hamstrung as lawmakers weigh ending Illinois’ only school choice program.

In 2021, just 33% of Illinois’ 11th grade students could read at grade level. Only 29% could perform math proficiently.

One school year later in spring 2022, 87.3% of that cohort of students graduated. Illinois also celebrated its highest graduation rate in a decade.

Something is wrong here.

Illinois public schools continue to receive more funding despite producing poorer academic proficiency among its students. That as poor school accountability allows record graduation rates despite dismal proficiency rates.

Illinois parents frustrated by the academic failures of public schools deserve options. But Illinois’ only school choice program, which allows low-income families the choice to send their children to private schools on donor-funded scholarships, is set to end at the end of 2023, unless state lawmakers move to save it during their fall veto session.

Contradicting metrics for Illinois’ class of 2022

The four-year graduation rate in Illinois hit a decade high in 2022 at 87.3%. That doesn’t mean student performance was at a decade high.

The final state test administered to the graduating class of 2022 was the SAT in spring 2021 during their 11th-grade academic year. On that exam, only 33% could read at grade level and 29% could perform math proficiently.

The first year Illinois implemented the SAT to measure 11th-grade student proficiency was in 2017 when almost 40% of students scored at proficiency in reading and over 36% in math. Proficiency among high school juniors has declined each year since then, in 2022 resulting in the lowest percentage of students proficient since the SAT became the standard.

Record-low proficiency. Record-high graduations.

Adding to poor proficiency measures, many students in the class of 2022 missed 10% or more of their school days during their senior year. Nearly 44% of the graduating class of 2022 were labeled chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year.

The pandemic aggravated declines

The pandemic and interruptions to in-person instruction appear to have seriously aggravated declines in proficiency and absenteeism in the state.

In 2019, the final full school year before the pandemic, over 36% of 11th graders met grade-level standards in reading and 34% in math. By 2022, only 30% were proficient in reading or math.

Just 17.5% of students statewide were chronically absent in the 2018-2019 school year. By the spring of 2022, about 30% were chronically absent.

Illinois students across grade levels hitting lower proficiency post-COVID

Younger Illinois students are also struggling to meet grade-level standards in reading and math at higher rates than pre-pandemic. In 2022, 70% of third through eighth grade students could not read at grade level and 75% could not perform math proficiently, compared with 62% missing grade level reading standards in 2019 and 68% math.

Illinois students’ proficiency is hitting its lowest levels in recent school years following COVID-19 school disruptions. But even before the pandemic, proficiency among Illinois students was at unacceptable levels. The last school year in which more students were meeting proficiency standards than failing to reach grade-level standards in both reading and math was in the 2013-2014 school year, the last school year before Illinois switched assessments to meet Common Core learning standards on state exams.

Illinoisans, especially parents of school-aged children, must take notice of what’s happening. Many are. This failing public school system continues to receive more funding even as it loses students. As enrollment has collapsed, funding has increased. The 2023-2024 Illinois State Board of Education budget is $10.4 billion, the largest ever and $3.8 billion more than a decade ago.

These statistics should convince state lawmakers low-income parents need alternatives to academic failure. Their one choice – private-school scholarships through the Invest in Kids program – ends in Illinois at the end of 2023, unless lawmakers act during the fall veto session to save it and the futures of 9,600 students who depend on it.

Contact your state lawmaker and ask whether they support saving Invest in Kids.

Click here to find and contact your state lawmakers.

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