Schools, students still recovering from pandemic learning loss State report card shows scores falling but student growth accelerating
November 2, 2022
–Capitol New Illinois Student test scores continued to fall last year but new data shows Illinois’ students are on the path to recovering from the learning loss that occurred dur-
ing the pandemic.
Numbers from standardized
tests administered last spring show steep declines in the per- centage of students who met or exceeded state standards in English language arts and math compared to 2019, the last year tests were administered before the pandemic.
Those numbers were re- ported in the latest state report card, which the Illinois State Board of Education released Thursday. In addition to test results, the report card includes information on a wide range of education metrics such as graduation rates, class sizes and teacher qualifications. It offers statewide data as well as data on each district and school building.
But while proficiency rates were down across the board, State Superintendent Carmen Ayala said the amount of growth students are showing from one year to the next is improving, suggesting that strategies being used to help students catch up in their academics are working.
ISBE devised a new metric this year to track growth rates. It involves measuring a stu- dent’s year-over-year change in scores in a particular subject and comparing that growth to a student in a prior year – in this case, 2019 – who started off with the same score. This year’s report card suggests students in 2022 showed greater growth than their academic peers in 2019.
Overall, only 27.4 percent of third graders in Illinois met or exceeded state standards in reading, down from 36.4 per- cent in 2019.
A 2010 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are proficient.
Likewise, eighth grade math proficiency is considered cru- cial to future success in what are called the STEM fields – science, technology, engineer- ing and math.
Last year, only 23.1 percent of Illinois eighth graders scored proficient in math, down from 32.6 percent in 2019.
One positive sign in math performance was an increase in the percentage of eighth graders who completed Algebra I – 29.9 percent, compared to 28.8 per cent the prior year – although it was still lower than the 30.6 percent reported in 2019.
The report card also noted that the four-year graduation rate in 2022 was 87.3 percent, the highest rate in 12 years, and that 64 percent of Illinois’ 2020 graduates enrolled in a post- secondary program within 12 months of graduating.
The college enrollment rate was down significantly from the 75 percent recorded for the class of 2016. State officials said that has been a nationwide trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic.
The standardized tests are re- quired by state and federal law. Like most states, however, Il- linois received a federal waiver from the requirement in 2020, when school buildings were closed due to the pandemic, and the participation rate in 2021 was far below normal. State officials cautioned against us- ing either of those two years as a point of comparison on most metrics.
ACHIEVEMENT GAPS: The report card showed aca- demic declines across all racial and ethnic groups in both Eng- lish language arts and math, but there were still large gaps between those groups.
For example, across all grades, preliminary data showed 39.4 percent of white students scored proficient in English language arts compared to 12.1 percent of Black students and 18.4 percent of Hispanic students. Asian stu- dents had the highest proficiency rate by far, at 58.6 percent.
In math, 35.6 percent of white students scored proficient com- pared to 6.8 percent of Black students, 13.5 percent of His- panic students and 60.2 percent of Asian students.
One area where achievement gaps appeared to be closing, how- ever, was high school graduation rates. The four-year graduation rate among Black students rose more than 1.5 percentage points, to 79.5 percent, while the gradu- ation rate for Hispanic students rose 1.4 points, to 85 percent.
That was a major factor in the state’s overall growth in gradu- ation rates because the rate for white students dropped half a point, to 90.4 percent.
There were also increases across the board in the percent- age of ninth graders who were on track to graduate, and for Black and Hispanic students, those rates were above pre-pandemic levels.
NATIONAL TRENDS: The Illinois report card came out the same week the U.S. Department of Education released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” and many of the trends seen in Illinois were consistent with national trends.
NAEP is administered to a representative sample of fourth and eighth grade students across the nation. In 2022, the major- ity of states saw average scores decline in both reading and math compared to 2019. There was also an increase in the percent- age of students scoring below the NAEP “basic” level.
Illinois fared better than many states on the NAEP exam in that there was no significant differ- ence between average scores in 2019 and 2022 for both subjects and grade levels, with scores above the national average.