Illinois high school students struggle, yet graduation rate hits 10-year high

Illinois high school students struggle, yet graduation rate hits 10-year high

Illinois celebrated its highest graduation rate in a decade. But high school student proficiency and average SAT scores are dropping as chronic absenteeism increases across the state.

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

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

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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, resulting in the lowest percentage of students proficient in 2022 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% in 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.

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