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One in four students regularly absent last year, Illinois report card shows

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Edison Middle School in Champaign. One in four Champaign Unit 4 students were chronically absent last year.

CHAMPAIGN — Learning did slow last year during pandemic school – especially for the state’s most vulnerable students.

The Illinois State Board of Education dropped this information on Friday morning in its annual report card.

“We need to recognize that for our Black and Hispanic children, remote learning was not very effective, particularly for English learners. When they are in their community environment, or they’re in their home, they may or may not be utilizing English as much as they would have if they were in a school setting,” says State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala.

English and math proficiency rates did decrease across all grade levels for Illinois students as a whole, according to preliminary testing data from the spring.

The differences between 2019 and 2021 were starkest among young English learners. For third through fifth grade English learners, sometimes half as many students were at grade level as before the pandemic.

Ayala pointed out that assessments were in English and so don’t measure what students can do their first languages.

The report card also showed more students missed school last year than before the pandemic.

One in four students in Champaign were chronically absent last year. Illinois defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.

Rhonda Thornton leads data analysis for the Unit 4 School District.

“Across the state and the nation, families were struggling. Parents had to work. They didn’t have much supervision at home to make sure students were getting online. We did a lot to ensure that every student had a Chromebook,” Thornton said

Pandemic school seemed to hit Black students across the state particularly hard. Chronic absenteeism jumped higher among Black students than any other racial group.

Thornton does not expect student absences to be such a problem this year, now that students are learning fully in person.

Despite all the gloomy news in the report card, there were some bright spots. Enrollment in Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment and career readiness programs were higher than before the pandemic.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, students took academically rigorous classes to prepare for college and career. Considering the circumstances that schools were operating under, this is really great news,” said Illinois Chief Research and Evaluation Officer Brenda M. Dixon.

Dixon pointed to Illinois’ recent investment in these college and career preparatory courses as a potential cause.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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