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Illinois school-level assessment data reveals the academic struggles of the 2020-21 pandemic-disrupted school year

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The Illinois State Board of Education released district and school-level assessment data from the 2020-21 school year. The IAR (Illinois Assessment of Readiness) and SAT test results are some of the first standardized testing numbers we've seen from a year that was as non-standard as it gets.

In a non-pandemic year, testing results don’t tell the whole story. They’re a snapshot of where a student is at on a given day.

Last year, many students learned from home, and not every student even participated in state testing -- including a fourth of Rockford students. But for those who did, outcomes reflect the struggle of pandemic learning.

Only 15% of Rockford Public School students met proficiency targets in English-Language Arts through the state's IAR test, given to third through eighth-grade students. That’s a 3% decline from when the last test was last given in 2019 -- which was already far below the state average.

The numbers vary widely on a school-to-school basis. Dozens of students were proficient at some elementary schools. The Gifted Academy at Thurgood Marshall Elementary had over 130 meet the standard. But, several others only had a single student meet English-Language Arts proficiency during the COVID-disrupted year.

The math results were slightly lower than English-Language Arts. Around 11% met proficiency, which is another 3% decline. Two RPS elementary schools didn't have any students who met proficiency last year.

The test scores show only 5% of low-income students met IAR proficiency for math and only 2% of Black students.

Aside from proficiency, another metric districts look at is growth — which measures a student's year-to-year academic changes. Some education leaders argue growth is a more useful tool to evaluate students. Growth data from last year is not yet available.

The new ISBE data also includes SAT results. Many universities — including Northern Illinois University — have recently adopted test-blind admissions policies. That's because research shows it's an unreliable barometer of students' success and often correlates more with school and family income levels.

Some Illinois schools gave last year’s assessments this fall. So, statewide data for the 2020-21 school year won’t be available until spring 2022.