Statement from Robin Steans, Executive Director of Advance Illinois, on the Performance of Illinois and Chicago on the Nation’s Report Card

October 28, 2015: The nation’s report card released today provides new and impactful insight into student performance in classrooms across Illinois, Chicago as well as the nation’s largest cities and other states.

The results are a clarion call for us all and a cautious reminder that the important work of providing a high-quality public education to all students, no matter where they live or attend school, remains urgent and ongoing.

Illinois’ performance on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress is, at best, a mixed bag.

Our state remained flat in both reading and math at grades four and eight, showing little movement up or down that was statistically significant, according to the results. Illinois held steady, however, as the nation’s performance declined in both reading and math, and outperformed the national average as a result.

Students in state’s largest school district, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), again outpaced the academic growth seen in Illinois and other large urban districts and showed some of the largest gains nationwide in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, according  to the NAEP results shared as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment. (More detail on Chicago and Illinois performance below)

The context for this performance, whether in Chicago or Illinois, matters tremendously. Consider this:

  • Illinois held steady even as state funding for public schools lagged behind the recommended amount needed for an adequate education. As a result, funding gaps worsened in a state that already ranks among the most inequitably funded and school districts that serve concentrations of low-income students, who need additional support, struggled to provide it.
  • Illinois students, educators and schools are being asked to do more than ever before with the rollout of the new Illinois Learning Standards for math and English Language Arts (based on the Common Core). This is a significant shift in how teachers teach and students learn that takes time. Educators in some of our state’s 860 school districts have made this shift with resources, collaboration time and professional development while other districts with lesser means have not been able to provide such supports.

These are not excuses, but rather explanatory context for Illinois’ performance trend on NAEP in recent years.

Illinois’ Performance Gaps Narrow, But More Work is Needed to Help All Students Achieve

Illinois continues to reduce some of the performance gaps that ranked among the nation’s largest in recent years.

In eighth-grade math, for instance, the divide between African-American students and their white classmates narrowed by eight percentage points to a 28-percentage point gap in 2015. Among Latino students and their white classmates, the divide narrowed by the same margin to an 18-percentage point spread.

Underlying the narrower performance gap, however, is the declining performance of Illinois white students in eighth-grade math.

The same trend can be seen in the performance of low-income students and their more affluent classmates. The performance gap narrowed from 34 percentage points in 2013 to 28 percent points in 2015 in eighth-grade math. But while low-income student performance stagnated, the performance of their non-low-income peers declined.

Chicago Students Show Steady Progress

Chicago Public Schools is among the nearly two dozen large urban districts who participate in the so-called Trial Urban District Assessment, offering insight into how the city’s students fared on this nationally comparable measure of student performance. The results show that Chicago continues to make outsized gains.

In eighth-grade math, CPS eighth-graders increased six scale-score points from the 2013 administration, the greatest growth reported among other urban districts.

In fourth-grade reading – another key academic milestone – CPS students increased by seven scale points, the third highest growth among urban districts nationwide.

Looking beyond the aggregate scale scores and proficiency rates, we find that not all students are improving at the same rate, and this should spur additional analysis and study about whether we are adequately supporting all students.

By any measure – whether in Chicago, Illinois or the nation as a whole – there is a great deal of ground still to cover. No one can be satisfied when fewer than half of Illinois students score proficiently on state assessments, and students in too many schools languish years below grade level with little support to improve.

Yet day after day in Chicago and Illinois, teachers and school leaders strive to help all students reach their potential. As Illinoisans, we owe them our support.