Student Enrollment Down Across Illinois, Education Officials Say

Students at Chicago Public Schools walk along a hallway in this file photo. (WTTW News)Students at Chicago Public Schools walk along a hallway in this file photo. (WTTW News)

Chicago Public Schools isn’t the only district in Illinois to see fewer students in its halls this year, as new data from state education leaders show overall enrollment declined by some 70,000 students this year.

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The Illinois State Board of Education on Friday released enrollment and other data for the 2021-22 school year in its annual report card, which shows statewide enrollment fell from 1,957,018 students last year down to 1,887,316 students.

Education officials pointed to the “significant impact” the COVID-19 pandemic had not only on enrollment figures, but also on increasing rates of chronic absenteeism, lower rates of ninth graders on track to graduate and steep declines in math and English language arts proficiency.

“We have witnessed both tragedy and heroism in our schools over the past year,” ISBE Superintendent Carmen Ayala said in a statement. “Students and educators have lost so much and lived and learned through unthinkable obstacles, but loss is not the whole story. … We know we have a steep road ahead of us to help students regain skills in math and reading, and we are confident that we have the funding, supports, and talent in our schools to climb that hill.”

Based on past enrollment trends, ISBE said it would have anticipated a 1.1% decrease in enrollment in a typical year. But this year, Illinois saw a 3.5% decline, and ISBE says that additional decrease can be attributed to the pandemic, putting it on par with similar enrollment loss seen in other states around the country.

Some of the biggest declines were seen at the pre-K and kindergarten levels, which saw drops of 17.5% and 8%, respectively.

White students make up the largest racial group across the state at 46.7%, but that’s down from 47.5% in 2020. The percentage of Black students remained flat at 16.6%, while the percentage of Hispanic students rose slightly, year-over-year, from 26.6% up to 27%.

CPS this week released its 20th-day enrollment information, which showed a similar 3% drop from last year’s total. District CEO Pedro Martinez also placed blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, a drop in the city’s birth rate and transfers outside of the school district.

Per ISBE data, Illinois students were also more likely to be chronically absent last year, with 1 in 5 students missing 10% or more of the school year. That’s a 21% increase over the 2019 figures.

And far fewer students met grade-level standards in English language arts and math, ISBE said, based on preliminary numbers from spring testing. Specifically, 16.6% fewer met grade-level standards in ELA and nearly 18% fewer students met grade-level math standards, based on Illinois Assessment of Readiness and SAT data.

ISBE said its younger students had larger decreases in proficiency, possibly because they struggled more to engage in remote learning than their older peers. The rate of ninth-graders on track to graduate also dropped by 5% from 2019 to 2021, according to ISBE.

Despite some struggles, ISBE in the report card noted that the statewide four-year graduation rate remained flat and that a record number of students took college and career preparation coursework last year.

“As we move forward, helping our children process this experience and restoring their learning must sit at the heart of every action,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “And for months, my administration has been working hand-in-hand with school administrators across the state to ensure the $7 billion dedicated to renewing K-12 learning for Illinois students properly addresses this long period of disruption and devastation. Together, with our incredible educators at the forefront, we are revitalizing our classrooms, student by student, for the betterment of all of Illinois.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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