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'We are absolutely on the right track': Illinois' top education official says student growth rebounded to pre-pandemic levels

DeKalb High School
Spencer Tritt
DeKalb High School

Illinois’ top education official says new data shows students are getting back on track from the pandemic.

Carmen Ayala is the Illinois State Superintendent of Education. She says student growth slowed dramatically during the first years of the pandemic. But in 2022 it bounced back and student growth was -- on average -- even slightly faster than it was in 2019.

“I want to be clear that proficiency rates are still not at pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “But this accelerated growth tells us that we are absolutely on the right track.”

Growth describes how much students improve in a year academically, compared to their peers who started at the same level. Proficiency, on the other hand, just asks if students met a benchmark like “Did they meet grade-level standards?”

Ayala says the quick growth in 2022 means that pandemic-response school interventions are working. It could look like tutoring, parent engagement, summer school and social emotional programs -- depending on the school and student.

More data on student growth and achievement can be found in the new 2022 Illinois Report Card, which officially launches next week.

It’s a state-run interactive tool where you can find education data about schools across the state.

Ayala says one of this year’s biggest additions to the report card is the “Equity Journey Continuum.” She says it helps districts identify gaps in student achievement, opportunity and support.

“There's absolutely no mandates or requirements associated with the continuum,” said Ayala. “It's an informational tool school districts can use to have those conversations about where they are on their equity journey, and what they need to do to close gaps.”

There are also narrative sections in parts of the report card like the continuum so districts can give local context to the data.

This year, for the first time, the interactive tool includes school performance metrics for career & technical education programs. You also can now find the number of national board-certified teachers in a school.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.