The post-pandemic changes Lake County school leaders credit for modest report card gains

Schools across Lake County are seeing modest increases in student performance on standardized tests, newly released 2022 Illinois School Report Card data shows.

And that's likely the result of intervention efforts by school districts to provide struggling students with more resources, officials say.

After more than a year of COVID-19 pandemic-related remote learning, Lake County schools saw dramatic declines in students meeting state standards on English language arts and mathematics skills. But now, students are bouncing back, according to the data released Thursday.

Angela Stallion, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Lake Zurich Unit District 95, said the district offered additional tutoring for students who needed it during remote learning and has continued the practice now that students are back in classrooms full time.

"We know our kids are best when they're in our classrooms with our teachers," Stallion said.

District 95's results on the most recent Illinois Assessment of Readiness, administered to third- through eighth-graders each spring, compare favorably even to test scores from before the pandemic.

In 2019, 42.7% of the district's third-graders met or exceeded expectations on the standardized test, but this past spring 50.5% of the district's third-graders accomplished mastery of those standards.

Not every student group was scoring better than its pre-pandemic counterpart, however. For example, 57.9% of eighth-graders met or exceeded test standards this year - down from the 59.1% of eighth-graders who did so in 2019.

"In the areas where we did not see significant growth, we did not see significant decline," Stallion said of the test scores on this year's state report card. "That tells us we're on the right track."

At Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50, officials are touting their proactive approach to increasing supports for students during the transition back to in-person learning once pandemic restrictions eased.

Steve Thomas, District 50 associate superintendent of teaching and learning with equity, said those supports included adding 30 minutes of social and emotional learning to the daily school schedule.

"This work included relationship-building skills to help with feelings of isolation and giving students the tools they need to handle big emotions and conflict," Thomas said.

In 2019, 35.4% of District 50's fourth-graders met or exceeded expectations on the standardized test, which the district's fourth-graders this past spring improved upon when 41% of them showed mastery of state standards.

The district also added more teachers to grade levels that need more help. Thomas said that after seeing in recent years that incoming kindergartners had fewer foundational skills, the district gradually expanded early childhood classes to seven sections from four sections a few years ago.

Warren Township High School District 121 Superintendent Daniel Woestman said the district has taken a targeted approach to supporting individual students who show signs of struggling. Teachers, administrators, and support staff members were responsible for spotting and helping struggling students, he said.

District leaders identified that freshman students needed extra help as a group, academically as well as emotionally.

"They've been through a couple of off years because of COVID," Woestman said of this year's freshman, whose middle school years suffered learning disruptions due to the pandemic-related remote environment. "The extra social support was to help them adjust to how high school is different from middle school."

Woestman said he is encouraged to see that the percentage of students who graduate from the district and then go on to enroll in remedial classes at a community college has dropped dramatically from the 55% in 2016 to just 25.5% in 2022.

In Lake Zurich District 95, Superintendent Kelly Gallt said one new intervention the district implemented to help older students who might be struggling was providing office hours for teachers at the end of the day.

Gallt said the change has led to more students seeking help on subjects they are struggling with. She also credited the community for working with the district to ease students' transition back coming out of the lockdown.

"Our staff has done remarkable things, so do our kids and so do our parents," Gallt said. "I could not be prouder of the collaborative effort that has gone into this."

  Woodland Primary School early childhood teacher Peggy McGuire conducts a letter recognition exercise with her students Wednesday in Gages Lake. Woodland Elementary District 50 added more early education sections after seeing district kindergartners needed more help after the pandemic disrupted learning. Paul Valade/
  Early childhood teacher Elena Villalba uses a black light and glow-in-the-dark ink during a writing exercise at Woodland Primary School in Gages Lake. Woodland Elementary District 50 added more early education personnel to help kindergartners coming out of the pandemic. Paul Valade/
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