Illinois schools report: Academic growth stays steady, more student racial diversity, truancy and dropout rates increase

BySara Tenenbaum and Jonathan Fagg WLS logo
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
School classroom

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The 2019 Illinois Report Card is in, and the state's grades are OK.

The Illinois State Board of Education said the report card shows schools demonstrated "historic increases in students taking and succeeding in rigorous college and career preparation courses -- representing four years of continuous growth and reflecting Illinois' investments in equity and opportunity."

This is broadly supported by the data the report card collected. Compared to schools nationwide, Illinois eleventh-graders' average SAT scores in both reading/writing and math either were comparable to or exceeded Michigan and Colorado, two other states with universal SAT administration.

The state's reading performance also held steady in 2019, according to an early view of the National Assessment of Educational Progress results from this year, while 31 other states saw significant declines in eighth-grade reading and 17 other states saw significant declines in fourth-grade reading, the board said.


Graduation rates held steady according to the latest available data, which is from 2017 and showed Illinois ranked in the top half of all states from graduation rate. The state's measure of ninth-graders on track to graduate held steady this year as well, the Board of Education said.

But schools continued to struggle with truancy and dropout rates, with some dramatic increases.

The chronic truancy rate has been climbing steadily year-over-year and hit its highest level since 2004 this year with 13.4%. The state's biggest leap in chronic truancy came from 2011 to 2012, when the rate of chronic truants more than doubled from 3.2% to 8.6%; since then it has only decreased in 2014 and 2015 to 8.7% before resuming its steady climb.

The dropout rate in Illinois appeared to double from 2018 to 2019, growing from 2.1% to 4.2%, due to a change in calculation by the Illinois State Board of Education. Previous years' dropout rates were self-reported by school districts. In 2019 the dropout rate included both self-reported numbers and also students who were enrolled in the previous school year but not enrolled in the following fall, in line with current recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education.


Researchers found more a diverse student population than teacher population. The percentage of white students fell from 48.5% in 2017 to 47.6% in 2019. The percentage of black students also decreased, from 17% in 2017 to 16.7% in 2019. Meanwhile the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 25.7% to 26.4%, Asian students grew from 4.9% to 5.1% and multiracial students rose from 3.4% to 3.8%.

Meanwhile, teachers' racial demographics were steadier. White teachers remained an overwhelming majority, even if the percentage of them fell from 83.3% in 2017 to 82.6% in 2019. The number of black teachers barely rose from 5.8% to 5.9%. The biggest growth was in Hispanic teachers, whose numbers grew from 5.6% of the state's teachers in 2017 to 6.7% in 2019. The number of Asian teachers also barely shifted, from 1.5% to 1.6%.

The breakdown by gender was even more consistent, and overwhelmingly female. In Illinois the number of women teachers rose from 76.7% in 2017 to 76.8% in 2019; male teachers lessened from 23.3% to 23.2%.


For the first time, the Illinois Report Card looked at how dollars are being spent at the school level. Illinois has allocated federal funding and other state assistance for four-year improvement cycles for schools designated "lowest-performing" or "underperforming." The average dollars spent at each school for the most part support the state's initiative; underperforming schools averaged $12,344 spent per student and lowest-performing schools averaged $14,436, while commendable schools averaged $12,473 and exemplary schools averaged $13,526.

However, there was still a lot of variability in schools in each category, with spending disparities spanning tens of thousands of dollars.

The top five commendable schools spent an average of just under $31,000 per student, while the bottom five commendable schools spent an average of $3,240. The top five exemplary schools spent an average $27,966 per student, while the bottom five spent an average of $6,711.

The top five underperforming schools spent an average of $25,751 per student, while the bottom five underperforming schools spent an average of $7,322 per student. And the top five lowest-performing schools spent an average of $28,439 on students, while the bottom five lowest-performing schools spent an average of $6,331.

Check out the Illinois Report Card or look up your school here: