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2021 Illinois report card shows impact of pandemic on schools

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WREX) — We're getting our first look at how the coronavirus pandemic impacted schools. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the education data from the 2020-21 school year for the state.

The data reveal higher rates of chronic absenteeism, lower rates of ninth graders on track to graduate, and steep declines in students across grade levels attaining proficiency in math and English language arts.

The state also saw more students take college and career preparation coursework last year. The number of teachers of color also increased, according to the data. 

Challenges in Student Enrollment, Attendance, and Learning 

Last school year started with fewer than 10 percent of Illinois students learning fully in-person. While more and more students returned to school buildings as the year progressed, the data released today show the significant impact of last year’s remote environment on student enrollment, attendance, and learning. 
 
One in five Illinois students was chronically absent last year, missing 10 percent or more of the school year (with or without a valid excuse) - a 21 percent increase over 2019.
 
Preliminary spring testing data also show far fewer students met grade-level standards in English language arts and math.
 
Data from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), taken by students in Grades 3-8, and the SAT, taken by 11th grade students, show that 16.6 percent fewer students met grade-level standards in English language arts in 2021 than in 2019 and 17.8 percent fewer students met grade-level standards in math.
 
The data show larger decreases in proficiency among younger students, who may have struggled more to engage in remote learning than their older peers.  
 
The rate of ninth-grade students on track to graduate dipped 5 percent from 2019 to 2021, reflecting an increase in students receiving failing grades.4 Students identified as on track have earned at least five full-year course credits and have earned no more than one semester “F” in a core course. Students who finish the ninth-grade year on track are almost four times as likely to graduate from high school as students who are not on track.  
 
ISBE says research shows that the number of students on track and the graduation rate rise when schools actively intervene by identifying ninth-graders at risk and providing tutoring, additional instruction, and other individualized services. 
 
Increases in College and Career Preparation 
 
ISBE says more students than ever took college and career preparation coursework last year. Illinois saw nearly 9,482 more students enrolled in dual credit, 2,885 more students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP), and 954 more students enrolled in career and technical education (CTE).
 
The state’s four-year graduation rate also held steady with 2019 and previous years.
 
More Teachers of Color 
 
Illinois schools added 1,251 more Hispanic teachers and 184 more Black teachers in 2020, a steady growth from previous years.
 
In the 2016-2017 school year, the number of Illinois educators who were Hispanic or Black were 5.6 and 5.8 percent, respectively. Last year, those numbers were up to 7.9 and 6 percent, respectively. 
 
Teacher pay and teacher retention also increased with teachers earning $70,705 on average – 3.9 percent more than in 2020 – and remaining in the profession at a rate of 87.1 percent – a 1.4 percent increase over 2020. The law Governor Pritzker enacted in 2019 to raise the minimum teacher salary began to take effect last year. 
 
So what about moving forward? 
Illinois schools have received more than $7 billion in federal fundingExcel Document to address the impact of the pandemic and help students recover academically and emotionally.

ISBE has directed its federal pandemic relief funding to close the digital divide, provide mental health supports to students and educators, help students transition to college after graduation, and launch a high-impact tutoring initiative slated to begin in early 2022. 

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