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New Illinois Report Card shows Rockford Public Schools still below the curve, but leaders see progress

Rockford Public Schools' students
Peter Medlin
Rockford Public Schools' students

The new Illinois Report Card was just released. It’s the state’s interactive education data set. Rockford Public Schools consistently falls well below state averages in key metrics like graduation rate and chronic absenteeism.

In 2022, that was still the case. RPS’ graduation ratewas around 66% -- that’s more than 20% lower than the state average. It also highlights racial disparities riddled throughout the report card. Black students in Rockford have a graduation rate just above 50%.

Superintendent Ehren Jarrett says he knows that’s a huge problem. And he says they saw indications that they’re making progress on raising graduation rates. Jarrett says that starts with getting freshmen on track.

“The research is very clear on that,” he said. “Once students establish those habits as freshmen, the likelihood of them graduating is astronomically higher.”

The district's freshmen ‘on track’ scores did improve this year, especially for Black & Hispanic students.

Two of the other biggest areas of concern for Jarrett are chronic absenteeism and student mobility -- how often students miss school and how often they move between schools.

Ellis Elementary School had the second-highest mobility rateof any elementary school in the state this year. Last year, Lewis Lemon Elementary – also in Rockford – was the highest. He says they need to look at policy changes with school zoning to ease that issue.

“When you talk about some of the things that happen with housing instability," he said, "we are doubling down inadvertently, I think, on some of the challenges that that creates. We don't make students move during the school year. But it still is problematic."

Jarrett says so far this year, attendance has improved. Students' standardized testing scoresfell, but not quite as dramatically as the rest of Illinois. Jarrett says he thinks Rockford offering in-person classes over the past few years of the pandemic helped with that.

But the superintendent says the district’s discipline numbersare still disappointing. Administrators in Rockford handed out 7,000 suspensions last year. That’s more than twice what District U-46 in Elgin gave out, even though they have more students than Rockford.

You can find more information about schools across the state at IllinoisReportCard.com.

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