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Pandemic takes toll on area grade schools

By Bob Bong and Peter Hancock

One year after COVID-19 scrambled the state’s public school system with schools alternating between in-person and remote learning because of uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the Illinois State Board of Education has released its school report card for public schools.

The report card, issued every fall, gives parents a look at how well their child’s district is doing especially compared to the state’s average in a number of areas.

The report cards explain how many teachers each district has, their class sizes, how much they make, how their students did on tests, and how many students attend each district.

The pandemic resulted in significant drops in enrollment, academic performance and the likelihood of graduating high school on time.

The report also shows a disturbing increase in chronic absenteeism since the pandemic began. More than one in five students, or 22.8 percent, missed 10 percent or more of all school days in the year. That’s up from 13.4 percent in 2019, the most recent full pre-pandemic year.

But the report also showed that more Illinois students than ever are preparing for college and careers by taking dual credit, Advanced Placement and career and technical education, or CTE courses, while schools themselves are doing a better job of retaining veteran teachers.

“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,”State Supt. of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala said in a statement. “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 course work, ensured students still graduated and earned early college credit along the way.”

In our coverage area:

Willow Springs District 108 operates a single school with an enrollment of 369. Whites make up 45 percent of the student body, Hispanics make up 47 percent, and blacks make up 5 percent. The district spends $16,000 per student. Its absentee rate was 8 percent. About 69 percent of students receive some kind of public aid. There are 31 teachers for a teacher-student ratio of 14-1. Teachers earn on average $64,169 per year. The district scored 25 for English and 16 for math on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness.

Lyons District 103 operates six schools with a combined enrollment of 2,238. The student body is 19 percent white, 74 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black. The district spends $15,000 per student. Its absentee rate was 21 percent. More than three-quarters of students (75.6%) receive some kind of public aid. The district employs 199 teachers. The student-teacher ratio is 13-1. Teachers earn an average of $69,449 per year. IAR scores were 15 for English and 7 for math.

LaGrange Highlands District 106 operates two schools with an enrollment of 913. The student body is 79 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black. The district spends $16,000 per student. It had an absentee rate of 2 percent. Only 3 percent of students received some kind of public aid. There are 80 teachers who earn an average of $69,551 per year. The teacher-student ratio is 14-1. No data was available for IAR scores.

LaGrange District 105 operates five schools with a combined enrollment of 1,258. The student body is 51 percent white, 38 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black. The district spends $19,000 per student. It had an absentee rate of 11 percent. About 38 percent of students receive some kind of public aid. The district employs 124 teachers who earn an average of XX. The student-teacher ratio is XX. IAR scores were 47 for English and 40 for math.

District 102 operates six schools with a combined enrollment of 2,989. The student body is 68 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black. The district spends $14,000 per student. The absentee rate was XX. About 15 percent of students are on some kind of public aid. There are 229 teachers with an average salary of $68,811. The teacher-student ratio is 15-1. IAR scores were 54 for English and 54 for math.

Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 operates two schools. The enrollment is 1,350. The student body is $62 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 1.4 percent black. The district spends $11,000 per student. The absentee rate is 4 percent. Ten percent of students are on some kind of public aid. There are 89 teachers who make on average $58,939 per year. The student-teacher ratio is 16-1. IAR scores were 40 for English and 26 for math.

Burbank District 111 operates eight schools and has a combined enrollment of 3,275 students. The student body is 38 percent white, 55 percent Hispanic and 1.4 percent black. The district spends $13,000 per student. Its absentee rate is 16 percent. About 64 percent of students receive some kind of public aid. The district employs 224 teachers who earn an average of $64,531 per year. The teacher-student ratio is 17-1. IAR scores were 16 for English and 16 for math.

Summit District 104 operates five schools in Summit and Bedford Park. The combined enrollment is 1,578. The district spends $16,000 per student. The absentee rate is 12 percent. Almost 90 percent (89.8%) of students receive some kind of public aid. There are 132 teachers who earn an average of $66,372 per year. There was no data on IAR scores.

Indian Springs District 109 operates six schools in Justice and Bridgeview. It has a combined enrollment of 2,449. The student body is 57 percent white, 25 percent Hispanic and 15 percent black. The district spends $15,000 per student. The absentee rate is 26 percent. About 65 percent of students receive some kind of public aid. There are 200 teachers who earn an average of $58,586 per year. IAR scores were 29 for English and 17 for math.

North Palos School District 117 operates five schools in Palos Hills and Hickory Hills. The enrollment is a combined 3,428 with 74 percent white, 12.5 percent Hispanic and 4.3 percent black. The district spends $13,000 per student. The absentee rate is 14 percent. More than 60 percent of students receive some kind of public aid. The district has 210 teachers, a student-teacher ratio of 20-1 and an average salary of $59,781 per year. The district scored 59 in English and in math on the IAR.

Oak-Lawn Hometown School District 123 operates six schools with an enrollment of 3,266. Whites make up 45 percent of the student body, Hispanics make up 42 percent, 7 percent are black. The district spends $13,000 per student. Its absentee rate was 26 percent. Almost half (47.7 percent) of students receive some kind of public aid. The district has 234 teachers who make $64,223 per year. Its student-teacher ratio is 19-1. Its IAR scores were 24 for English and 16 math.

Ridgeland School District 122 operates five schools. Its enrollment was 2,313 with 60 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black. The district spends $13,000 per student. A large number of students (84 percent) receive some kind of public aid. The district has 186 teachers who make $56,425 per year. Its student-teacher ratio was 15-1. Its IAR scores were 23 for English and 14 for math.

According to the state, the increase in absenteeism was especially notable among English learners, Black and Hispanic students.

Officials cautioned, however, that the 2021 figures might not be reliable because of the number of students who were engaged in remote learning, where taking accurate attendance counts can be more challenging.

“We know from national studies from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that school districts serving primarily Black and Hispanic students provided the least access to in-person learning last year,” Brenda Dixon, ISBE’s research and evaluation officer, said during a briefing on the report. “We suspect that less access to in-person learning contributed to lower engagement among Black and Hispanic students.”

The report card also showed declines in student performance on standardized tests, although those numbers are still preliminary because schools were given the option of administering those tests this fall due to the number of buildings that were still not fully open in the spring. Full results will be published next spring.

“The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging schools to watch this cohort closely and to utilize federal pandemic relief funds for research-based interventions, especially for current ninth- and 10th-graders who are not on track for graduation,” Ayala said during the briefing. “We are also launching a $25 million high-impact tutoring program early this coming year to provide these types of individualized services to students across the education continuum.”

Ayala also noted that Illinois has received nearly $8 billion in federal pandemic relief funding to address the gaps that resulted from remote learning. Ninety percent of that money was paid directly to school districts that will decide locally how to spend it, but ISBE has earmarked the remaining 10 percent for things like bolstering special education services, closing the digital divide, and mental health services for students and educators.

The state’s overall teacher retention rate – the three-year average of the percentage of full-time teachers returning to the same school from the previous year – also rose more than a percentage point, to 87.1 percent, although retention rate was lower among Black teachers.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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