Education in Illinois making slow progress, according to report

Online Staff Report

CHICAGO — Illinois is making slow progress in the face of daunting challenges in preparing students to succeed after high school, according to a new report.

The State We’re In: 2014,” released by the nonprofit education advocacy organization Advance Illinois, tracked state performance on 55 measures of early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary education going back over a decade.

This year, for the first time, half of all Illinois public school students come from low-income families and will require additional resources and support to achieve. This comes as the state has cut millions from education over the last several years. In the face of such demographic changes, Illinois is making some headway in student achievement, high school graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment. However, the college completion rate is stuck in neutral.

Even in these difficult times, our most important investment must be to educate our students. This is vital for the state’s economic and social future,” said former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, chairman emeritus of Advance Illinois. “We must be clear about what is at stake for all of us.”

The report is issued on a biennial basis and tracks student outcomes, leading indicators, and learning conditions as well as comparing Illinois’ performance to that of other states.

Early education: Long a national leader in early learning, Illinois is now losing ground. Hard-won access to early childhood programs has been largely erased because of shrinking resources, and there is little time in preschool for children who need it the most. As it did in 2012, Illinois receives an “Incomplete” pending the statewide roll-out of a well-regarded measure of kindergarten readiness. The state’s ranking on other measures slipped from 14th to 15th.

K-12: Despite bright spots of progress — notably in eighth-grade math performance, the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, and high school graduation rates — other states are outpacing our gains in the critical measure of fourth-grade reading. And we have made little progress growing college readiness among high school students.

Achievement gaps persist among minority and white students, and gaps by income exist across all racial groups. One notable change is the narrowing of the achievement gap between white and Latino students by 5 percentage points.

Illinois ranks 30th among the states for a grade of C-, the same grade earned in 2012.

Postsecondary: Increasing college enrollment rates show young people are getting the message that earning a college credential is now critical. But college completion rates remain stagnant. Rising college costs and inadequate support for students, both financial and academic, are major factors in the lack of progress. On our combined postsecondary metrics, Illinois now ranks 25th among the states for a grade of C, slightly lower than the C+ earned in 2012.

The progress made by the Chicago Public Schools was featured in the report as an example of how obstacles can be overcome. With roughly one-third of the state’s low-income students, Chicago managed to outpace the rest of the state in gains made in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math — both significant milestones in academic preparedness.

Chicago has also seen an increase of 22 percentage points in its graduation rates over the last decade. Due in part to a focus on supporting freshmen success, more than two-thirds of the CPS senior class graduated last year.

Real improvement in education requires a plan, talented educators, and time,” said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois. “It is up to us to provide the supports necessary to get every student world ready.”

For more information on “The State We’re In: 2014,” visit www.advanceillinois.org.

Posted Nov. 21, 2014

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