SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today announced the release of education data from the 2020-21 school year. (The data are preliminary, subject to change, and under embargo until 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29.) The data illustrate the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of access to in-person learning on student achievement, enrollment and attendance. 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.
However, the data also show Illinois schools overcame significant challenges to reach new heights in preparing students for college and career and to increase teacher diversity and retention.
Illinois schools have received more than $7 billion in federal funding 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.
“The 2021 Illinois Report Card is a testament to the progress we can make when we invest in our classrooms – with more students than ever taking college and career preparation coursework – as well as the tremendous challenges the pandemic has created for school-aged children the world over,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “As we move forward, helping our children process this experience and restoring their learning must sit at the heart of every action. And for months, my administration has been working hand-in-hand with school administrators across the state to ensure the $7 billion dedicated to renewing K-12 learning for Illinois students properly addresses this long period of disruption and devastation. Together, with our incredible educators at the forefront, we are revitalizing our classrooms, student by student, for the betterment of all of Illinois.”
“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “Students and educators have lost so much and lived and learned through unthinkable obstacles, but loss is not the whole story. Illinois’ schools also stepped up the rigor of high school coursework, ensured students still graduated and earned early college credit along the way. Our teachers have stayed in classrooms when we have needed them the most, and the number of people choosing this wondrous profession in our state continues to grow. We know we have a steep road ahead of us to help students regain skills in math and reading, and we are confident that we have the funding, supports, and talent in our schools to climb that hill.”
Increases in College and Career Preparation
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). Even in the midst of a pandemic, students took academically rigorous courses to prepare for college and career.
Governor Pritzker’s fiscal year 2021 budget included a $500,000 increase in funding for AP to cover the cost of AP exams for low-income students, which has continued to fuel Illinois’ nation-leading growth in AP success and equity. Illinois’ state plan for CTE, supported by $43 million in state funding annually since FY 2020, has raised the bar for CTE courses, incorporating dual credit as part of the standard for a high-quality CTE program.
The state’s four-year graduation rate also held steady with 2019 and previous years – a testament to the incredible work of Illinois’ educators to keep students engaged and on the path to college and career under extremely difficult circumstances.1
More Teachers of Color
Efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color continue to pay off – with Illinois schools adding 1,251 more Hispanic teachers and 184 more Black teachers to their ranks. As the overall number of teachers has continued to grow, Hispanic and Black teachers have represented a greater and greater proportion of Illinois educators – up from 5.6 and 5.8 percent, respectively, of the teacher workforce in the 2016-17 school year to 7.9 and 6 percent of the teacher workforce last year. ISBE has awarded $3.5 million in state funding for CTE Education Career Pathways Grants to support 100 high schools in creating a pipeline for future educators with a focus on recruiting future teachers of color.
ISBE will continue to support diversity in the teaching profession, working this year with institutions of higher education to develop plans for the recruitment and retention of teachers of color and dedicating $2 million in federal pandemic relief funding to create affinity groups for teachers of color.
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. ISBE partnered with the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers on a teacher mentorship and instructional coaching program to provide more support to new educators who started their teaching careers during the pandemic. ISBE also offered all Illinois educators a free virtual learning community through the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital to promote self-care and trauma-informed practices in the classroom.
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.
Nearly 70,000 fewer students enrolled in Illinois public schools statewide. Prior years’ enrollment trends meant ISBE would have anticipated a 1.1 percent decrease in enrollment in a typical year, which leaves a 2.5 percent drop attributable to the pandemic - on par with the approximately 3 percent average drop in enrollment reported by other states.
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 2019.2
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.3
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.
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. ISBE encourages schools to watch this cohort closely and direct federal pandemic relief funds to research-based interventions for current 10th graders not on track for graduation.
ISBE plans to launch a high-impact tutoring initiative in early 2022, supported by $37.5 million in federal pandemic relief funding, to provide direct interventions for students across the education continuum.
The 2021 Illinois Report Card data illustrate the challenges students and educators experienced with remote learning and underscore why ISBE continues to ensure all Illinois students have access to safe, in-person instruction. Universal indoor masking and an increasing vaccinatination rate among school personnel are mitigations that are proven to prevent outbreaks in schools and keep students and educators safe while teaching and learning in-person, where they can best recover from the impact of the pandemic.
- Register for media briefing 12 p.m. Oct. 27
- Access the FTP site for 2021 Illinois Report Card data (preliminary and subject to change until embargo lifts at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29)
- School-, district-, and state-level non-assessment data
- Preliminary 2021 IAR and SAT data from spring testing only
- State-level 15-year trends
- Federal pandemic relief funding fact sheet
- Illinois Report Card Glossary of Terms
- 2021 Illinois Report Card Release Timeline: Due to the pandemic, school districts had an extended testing window in spring 2021, as well as the alternative option to test in fall 2021. Therefore, today’s 2021 Illinois Report Card release does not include school- or district-level assessment data. ISBE has provided separately a preview of preliminary state-level data only from those districts that opted to test in the spring. ISBE will release district- and school-level assessment data from spring testing on Dec. 2 and will release district- and school-level assessment data from fall testing, as well as final state-level assessment data, on April 27, 2022.
1 ISBE does not recommend comparing 2021 graduation rates to 2020, as Illinois took emergency action to adjust graduation requirements in 2020 to account for the sudden shift to remote learning in March and the inequitable access to technology and supports at home.
2 ISBE does not recommend comparing 2021 chronic absenteeism rates to 2020, as ISBE and schools did not have a consistent way to collect and record remote attendance in spring 2020.
3 Illinois students did not take federal accountability assessments in 2020.
4 ISBE does not recommend comparing the 2021 rate of ninth graders on track to graduate to 2020, as ISBE issued guidance in spring 2020 for school districts not to issue letter grades and instead to offer pass/incomplete.