Charter school classroom

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois State Board of Education has released the 2022 Illinois Report Card showing the highest graduation rate in over a decade, but some say that is misleading.  

Officials attributed the improved graduation rate to Black and Hispanic students. 

State Schools Superintendent Carmen Ayala said every demographic group experienced growth in both English and math. 

“Student growth slowed dramatically during the pandemic, but growth last school year rebounded, and even slightly outperformed pre-pandemic levels” Ayala said. 

The report said the 2022 school year saw average student growth in the 54th percentile in English language arts and the 52nd percentile in math, compared to 2021’s 38th percentile and 2019’s 50th percentile in both English language arts and math. Some assessment data from 2020 was not collected because of the suspension of in-person learning. Student growth measures how much students progressed in one year compared to other students in their grade statewide who started at the same baseline. 

Ayala attributed the rebound to the state’s Learning Renewal Resource Guide as the state invested $7.8 billion of federal pandemic relief funds into programs such as high-impact tutoring, summer school, additional teachers, and mental health supports. 

The Illinois Report Card also showed the state added more than 2,500 full-time teachers, including more than 500 Black and Hispanic teachers last year. Teacher retention also hit a nine-year high of 87.6% of teachers returning to the same school year to year.

Thirty percent of students were chronically absent last year, according to the report. A chronically absent student missed 10% or more of the school year, about 17 days, due to excused or unexcused absences. The rates of chronic absenteeism were even higher for Black students at 48%, Hispanic students at 36%, low-income students at 43%, English learners at 35% and students with disabilities at 40%.

Illinois' enrollment in 2022 stabilized to the pre-pandemic trend of declining about 1% per year. State officials attribute that to the state’s declining birth rate.

Separately, Ted Dabrowski, president of Wirepoints, compiled a comprehensive report showing less than 40% of all students in Illinois were proficient in either reading or math before the pandemic. He said graduation rates can be misleading.

“You see that in school district after school district where the kid can’t read and you see it every year that they are tested, and they have very high graduation rates,” said Dabrowski.  

The Wirepoints report noted that social promotion, hyper-inflated teacher evaluations and misleading accountability designations from ISBE all help deflect the blame that Illinois school children are not being properly prepared for the future. 

“Just 11 out of every 100 Black students were reading at grade level in 2021. For Hispanics, it was only 18 out of every 100,” the report said.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.