Given the alarming trends seen going back years, the 2021 student outcomes are nothing short of devastating. Many of us sounded the alarm on school closures and how funds are not making their way into the classroom.
Critical and creative solutions are needed to ensure our district enriches students to truly achieve their greatest potential. I look forward to campaigning on this issue once on the ballot.
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Illinois’ 2021 student outcomes collapsed during school shutdowns, Covid mitigations – Wirepoints Special Report
By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
A collapse in student outcomes
Consensus has increasingly coalesced around the fact that school closures, remote learning and other Covid mitigations during the pandemic have been harmful for children academically, as well as mentally, socially and developmentally. The academic damage done is the focus of this report. As recent results across the country have shown, 20 years or more of progress has been erased during the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, Illinois students weren’t spared. A Wirepoints analysis of Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data comparing pre-Covid 2019 student outcomes versus those in 2021 shows that the number of students able to read at grade level dropped from 37 out of every 100 students – already dismal – to just 31 out of every 100. That’s a drop of 18 percent.*
The results for black students were even worse – a 36 percent decline – with just 11 of every 100 black students able to read at grade level in 2021.
Those declines are depressing considering how poorly Illinois students were performing even before the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board was rendered “speechless” when the editors read Wirepoints’ previous report, “Poor student achievement and near-zero accountability: An indictment of Illinois’ public education system,” that detailed the state’s 2019 results.
Statewide, in 2019, 36% of all third grade students could read at grade level. That’s an F, and that’s the good news. That number drops to 27% for Hispanic students and 22% for black students statewide. In certain public school systems, the numbers plummet to single digits. In Decatur, 2% of black third-graders are reading at grade level and only 1% are doing math at grade level. We aren’t often speechless, but the extent to which that performance is betraying a generation of schoolchildren is hard to put into words.
That further damage was inflicted on student outcomes in 2021 is even more painful.
A cursory glance at the worst performers among the state’s largest school districts shows how dramatic some of the drops have been. Decatur, featured in our first report, saw outcomes collapse further in 2021. Just 6 out of every 100 students in the district could read at grade level. It was 12 before the pandemic.
The drop in reading was widespread across the state. Over 60 percent of Illinois’ 850 school districts, or 521 districts, had reading proficiency levels decline by 20 percent or more.
Illinois student performance in math was just as bad – 61 percent of districts (516 in all) had math proficiency drop by 20 percent or more. The full results for math can be found in the Appendix below.
ISBE is reportedly set to release Illinois’ 2022 student achievement data on October 27. If there is any improvement in student achievement in 2022, it must be put in context with the damage done to students over the 2019-2021 period.
The key findings of Wirepoints’ analysis include the following:
Reading proficiency in Illinois fell by 18 percent over the past two years. Just 37.4 out of every 100 Illinois students were reading at grade level in 2019; that fell to 30.6 out of every 100 in 2021.
Math proficiency suffered a 19 percent decline. Just 32 out of every 100 Illinois students were able to do math at grade level in 2019; that fell to 25.8 out of 100 in 2021.
The drop in proficiency was even larger for minorities. Reading proficiency for Hispanics dropped 29 percent during the pandemic (from 26 students out of 100 to 18), while black student proficiency dropped a dramatic 36 percent (from 18 students out of 100 to 11).
In 2021, only 38 percent of white students, 18 percent of Hispanic students and just 11 percent of black students statewide were proficient in reading.
In 2021, only 33 percent of white students, 13 percent of Hispanic students and just 6 percent of black students statewide were proficient in math.
As a result of all the drops in proficiency, the number of Illinois’ 850 districts that had fewer than 30 percent of their students proficient in reading jumped by 83 percent, from 256 districts in 2019 to 470 districts in 2021.
Chicago Public Schools students suffered a 20 percent drop in reading proficiency and a 26 percent drop in math proficiency between 2019 and 2021. Just 17 of every 100 Hispanic students and just 11 of every 100 black students in CPS could read at grade level in 2021.
Despite the collapse in student outcomes, the number of teachers statewide evaluated as “excellent or proficient” rose to 98.8 percent in 2021, up from 97.2 percent in 2019. Every single evaluated teacher was rated “excellent or proficient” in 462 school districts in 2021.
In Chicago Public Schools, 100 percent of teachers were evaluated as “excellent or proficient” in 2021, up from 91.4 percent in 2019.
Reading proficiency collapses
An overview of the state’s 30 largest school districts, which make up 40 percent of Illinois’ entire student population, paints the overall picture of how reading proficiency collapsed in 2021.
The biggest drop among the largest districts was Decatur (tied with Cicero), which saw its reading proficiency level fall by 54 percent.
That news is particularly disheartening given that before Covid only 12.1 out of every 100 students in the district’s entire 8,400 enrollment could read at grade level. By 2021, just 5.6 students out of 100 were at grade level. The student makeup in the Decatur school district is one-third white, one-half black and 5 percent Hispanic, so the damage hit all students, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Cicero SD 99, a district overwhelmingly made up of Hispanics (97 percent), also saw proficiency fall by 54 percent. Before Covid, 21.3 students out of every 100 could read at grade level. After the state’s pandemic measures, that fell to just 9.9 out of every 100 students.
Waukegan, another large Hispanic district (80 percent), saw its reading proficiency drop 42 percent. Before Covid, 18.3 out of every 100 students were proficient in reading. By 2021, just 10.6 students out of every 100 were proficient.
The state’s largest school district, Chicago Public Schools, saw its reading proficiency drop from 27 out of every 100 students to just 21.5 per 100. That’s a 20 percent drop in proficiency.
White Chicago students experienced a 13 percent drop, Hispanics had a drop of 31 percent and black student reading proficiency dropped 38 percent.
As a result of all the drops in proficiency, the number of Illinois’ 850 districts that had fewer than 30 percent of its students proficient in reading jumped by 84 percent, from 256 districts in 2019, to 470 districts in 2021.
The number of districts with reading proficiency between 60 and 90 percent dropped from 89 to 40, while the number of districts with 30 to 60 proficiency fell from 505 to just 340.
Here’s the full breakdown by 10 percent intervals.
A last subject which deserves attention is the direction in which teacher evaluations moved during Covid. Even before the pandemic, teacher evaluations were already way out-of-sync with student outcomes.
Despite just 37 percent of all Illinois students being able to read at grade level in 2019 (including just 26 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of black students), 97.2 percent of teachers were rated “excellent or proficient” that year.
In 2021, regardless of the significant decline in student scores, shutdowns, remote learning, etc., 98.8 percent of teachers were rated “excellent or proficient.” Amazingly, of the 593 school districts that performed teacher evaluations in 2021, 462 districts rated 100 percent of their teachers “excellent or proficient.”
As the above results show, Illinois student outcomes suffered a significant decline. However, the reality is that even before Covid, this state’s education results were dismal.
Look for lawmakers to argue that even more money is needed to improve outcomes. But as we argued in our recent report, money can’t and won’t fix Illinois’ educational-industrial complex:
Today, Illinoisans are stuck with a $38 billion system that demands little to no accountability from its educators. A system that prioritizes social promotion over literacy. A system that’s more obsessed with vague outcomes like equity and diversity than merit and competence. A system that compensates itself handsomely and performs self-serving evaluations, never mind the outcomes. And a system where parents have little to no choice but to send their kids to failing schools.
It’s no wonder so many parents have simply given up fighting or have packed up and left Chicago and other Illinois cities.
Illinois education requires a dramatic transformation. But that won’t happen until the state’s political elite acknowledge the system no longer works for students and parents.
*Please note that Wirepoints uses the phrase “can read or do math at grade level” to describe students who meet Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) “proficiency” standards. This is consistent with the Illinois School Board of Education’s definition of proficient: “Students performing at levels 4 and 5 met or exceeded expectations, have demonstrated readiness for the next grade level/course and, ultimately, are likely on track for college and careers. We also use the “grade level” description above as shorthand for the 11th-grade Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) proficiency standards.
Appendix. Illinois’ math results