Press Release: Biennial report shows state’s education system has made progress in some areas, lags behind in others

CHICAGO (NOV. 30, 2016) – Low-income Illinois students remain academically well behind their wealthier peers in K-12 schooling and are less likely to complete a postsecondary degree, according to a report released today by Advance Illinois, an independent, objective voice promoting a healthy education system that prepares all students for success in college and career. Every Student Counts: The State We’re In 2016-2017 shows that only 20% of low-income Illinois 4th graders are reading proficient, 35 percentage points lower than their more-affluent peers. In 8th grade math, just 18% of low-income students are proficient, 29 percentage points lower than their more-affluent peers. The story is similar for scoring college-ready on the ACT as 20% of low-income students are college-ready, 39 percentage points lower than their wealthier peers. Low-income students are 26 percentage points behind wealthier peers in postsecondary enrollment, and 9 percentage points behind in completion.

This fifth edition of Advance Illinois’ biennial report also shows that the demographics of the state are changing. In the past 10 years, the number of school districts with a majority of students coming from low-income families has jumped from 13% to 43% and these districts exist in every part of the state. A similar trend is seen in the number of English learners, with students learning English now more than 10% of the total Illinois public school population and living all over the state.

“The terrible spread of concentrated poverty throughout Illinois exacerbates challenges for our education system,” said Ginger Ostro, Executive Director, Advance Illinois. “Our elementary performance shows some of the largest income-based disparities in the nation. Illinois must invest in its lowest-income and most vulnerable students to help them succeed and to prepare the future workforce.”

For the first time, The State We’re In includes projections to show what it would take at key benchmarks to reach Illinois’ “60 by 25” goal of 60% of adults holding a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. With only 50% of adults currently meeting the goal, the state will need to make dramatic progress. Illinois’ national rankings are in the middle of the pack. In the highest-performing state, Massachusetts, 50% of 4th graders are reading at grade level, and 51% of 8th graders are at grade level in math. “Illinois needs to make more progress in the next 10 years than it has in the past 10 years to meet the state’s goal. And that means closing the gaps between low-income students and their wealthier peers,” Ostro emphasized. Projections to reach 60 by 25 include:

  • 4th graders reading proficiently will need to grow from 35% to 45%
  • 8th grade math proficiency will need to grow from 32% to 44%
  • College readiness will need to grow from 38% to 47%
  • Postsecondary enrollment will need to grow from 64% to 70%
  • Postsecondary completion will need to grow from 28% to 34%

“Education remains the best path out of poverty,” said Juan Salgado, Board Member, Advance Illinois, and President and CEO, Instituto del Progreso Latino. “Fortunately, many of the building blocks of a healthy education system are in place in Illinois, like rigorous learning standards and assessments aligned to those standards. However, Illinois needs an equitable funding system and more needs to be done to create a sensible accountability system that reflects school performance while offering strong supports and appropriate interventions for schools in need.”

The report offers three recommendations, including to make sure that students have the resources they need:

  • Fix Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation, inequitable K-12 funding formula. The report highlights Illinois’ funding system, which according to The Education Trust ranks last for funding of low-income students.
  • Foster a fair, clear and supportive system through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to report school performance and offer supports to help schools—and all students—succeed.
  • Share collaborative models that inspire investment in and expansion of community-driven change. The State We’re In features promising local collaborative models from across the state, including in Aurora, East St. Louis, McHenry, Rockford and Quincy, that others can build on.

“The economic success of our state, and our citizens, hinges on our progress toward 60 by 25,” said John Edwardson, Chair, Advance Illinois, and former Chairman and CEO, CDW Corporation. “Our next generation of Illinois’ leaders is entering kindergarten today. The schools they attend must prepare them with the skills to complete the postsecondary degrees and credentials that employers demand.”

The State We’re In will be released on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, noon, Maggiano’s, 516 N. Clark. St., Chicago.

For the full The State We’re In report and additional interactive web features, please visit www.advanceillinois.org/2025 (available on Nov. 30).

About Advance Illinois

Motivated by the urgency that Illinois was not preparing its students to compete in a global marketplace, leaders from more than a dozen civic, philanthropic, business and education organizations from across the state came together to found Advance Illinois in 2008 to serve as an independent, objective voice promoting a healthy education system that prepares all students for success in college and career. Advance Illinois is equity-driven, student-centered and data-focused and positioned uniquely to provide the continuity required to successfully pass, implement, and evaluate policy change. Advance Illinois identifies, designs and advocates for policies that are grounded in nationally recognized best practices and then tailored to the needs of students in Illinois.