‘Districts are not being honest’: Critics argue Illinois graduation rates hide unprepared students

(The Center Square) – Illinois saw its highest graduation rate in more than a decade last year, according to the Illinois Report Card. Yet critics are wondering if the state’s schools are graduating students who aren’t ready.

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski argues that the Illinois School System has become so broken even its greatest accomplishments now raise questions about its overall competency.

“These school districts are not being honest with students or parents,” Dabrowski told The Center Square. “They’re looking to hide all their failures by graduating kids that are not prepared to move on.”

As Exhibit A, Dabrowski points to how the state recently celebrated its highest graduation rates in more than a decade at a time when proficiency and SAT scores are among high school students are both on the decline and chronic absenteeism has ballooned into an even bigger problem.

According to Illinois Policy Institute, in 2021 just one out of every three 11th grade students was reading at grade level and only 29% could perform math proficiently. Yet of that class, 87.3% of students graduated in 2022, the same year the state hit its highest graduation rate since 2012.

Over the past five years, or since state officials implemented the SAT to measure 11th-grade student levels, proficiencies among high school juniors has dipped each year, resulting in the lowest overall percentage of students found to be proficient in 2022 since the SAT became the standard.

“With these graduation rates, we’re sending the message to parents that the system is doing well, but if you really look at the results, you see we’re dramatically behind in terms of what these students can really do,” Dabrowski said. “The system today doesn’t care about literacy and is one that can’t function as it was intended to.”

At the same time, many students in the class of 2022 missed at least 10% of their school days during their senior year and nearly half of that graduating class (44%) were stamped chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year as interruptions to in-person learning spurred on by the pandemic became far too common.

Dabrowski said he now sees just one way forward.

“There needs to be an obsession with literacy, and what I mean by that is everyone working toward that goal,” he said. “I want to hear Gov. [J.B.] Pritzker and [Chicago] Mayor [Brandon] Johnson state that they want to raise reading levels. Instead of hearing Mayor Johnson talking about removing metrics and standards, I want us all to be pulling together to make sure they’re being meet in every way. We can’t just look to spend our way out of this, especially when that means continuing to pump money into system that we see no longer works for anyone.”

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