'The good news is we're recovering': Illinois School Report Card shows second year of post-pandemic gains

Illinois high schools graduated students in record numbers and schools across the state continued to show signs of post-pandemic academic recovery, according to the 2023 Illinois School Report Card released today.

The annual measure of academic performance shows a second straight year of gains after two years of slippage due to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. But while student proficiency levels inched up, they remain below pre-pandemic levels.

"We are moving fast toward recovery, but we still have a significant distance to travel," State Superintendent of Education Tony Sanders said. "Even once we exceed pre-pandemic achievement, we are not done until we have a system that graduates each and every student ready for success. Educators and families should be proud of the remarkable progress we see on the 2023 Illinois Report Card while remaining focused on understanding and meeting students' needs at this phase of recovery."

The Illinois School Report Card outlines the results of the state's standardized assessments in English language arts and mathematics administered each spring to all students in third through eight grades, the science assessment taken by fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders, and the SAT college entrance exam taken by 11th-graders. The tests measure student growth and proficiency in meeting learning standards.

This year's results show a 16% change statewide year-over-year in English language arts from 29.9% to 34.6%, meaning an additional 39,000 students have mastered grade-level standards. Black students posted the largest gain with a 33% change in proficiency rates, according to report card data.

Districts across the suburbs saw similar results.

"The good news is we're recovering," said Patrick Nolten, assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability for Naperville Unit District 203. "It will probably take us one more year and we'll most likely be back to where we were, if not beyond."

Though not yet at pre-pandemic levels, District 203 saw proficiency levels of 67.2% in English language arts and 58.2% in math - putting the district among some of the top districts in the state, Nolten said. The district also saw notable gains among minority students with 32.2% of Black students and 47.1% of Hispanic students meeting or exceeding state standards in English language arts.

Across the suburbs, school districts saw English language arts proficiency levels ranging from 11.8% in Round Lake Unit District 116 to 78.3% in Northbrook/Glenview Elementary District 30.

Proficiency rates in math showed smaller gains across the state, with a 4.3% change year-over-year from 25.8% in 2022 to 26.9% in 2023, data show.

A sampling of districts across the suburbs show math proficiency rates ranging from 6.1% in Round Lake Unit District 116 to 77.5% in Northbrook/Glenview Elementary District 30.

On the high school front, the state recorded its highest graduation rate in 13 years at 87.6%. Gains in graduation rates among Hispanic and Black students helped drive the overall increase. Hispanic students saw a 4.7% graduation rate increase, while Black students saw a 4% increase in 2023.

Schools across the suburbs attributed academic gains to a variety of measures, such as increased instructional coaching, reading or math interventionists, school improvement plans and an increased focus on social-emotional supports. In Round Lake Community Unit District 116, post-pandemic daily tutoring has continued with an evening session available for students. The district also launched a summer activity bus program offering art, science, math and Project Lead the Way learning opportunities for students during the summer months.

As a result, the district saw a 5.5% gain in students meeting English language arts standards and a 2.5% increase in those who met grade-level standards in math.

High school officials added summer recovery programs and early intervention to keep freshmen on track for graduation helping boost the overall graduation rates.

"Our schools especially focus on supporting freshmen to remain on track by monitoring academic performance throughout the year and implementing early intervention efforts," said Erin Holmes, director of communications for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211. The district, with high schools in Palatine, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg, saw a graduation rate of 92.9% with the Class of 2023.

School districts also made gains in the fight against chronic absenteeism, which is defined as students who miss 10% of the school year, or roughly 17 days. Illinois saw a slight dip in chronic absenteeism from 29.8% in 2022 to 28.3% in 2023, data show.

Districts across the suburbs continue work to address chronic absenteeism, noting attendance is a key indicator of student success.

"Our students thrive when they are inside our school buildings, benefiting from our dedicated teachers and connecting with their peers in the classroom," said Superintendent Susan Harkin of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, which saw a 5.3% decrease in chronic absenteeism in 2023. "With the partnerships we continue to build between our schools, parents and community, we are confident our chronic absenteeism rates will continue to decline."

Find out how your schools and districts performed on the 2023 Illinois School Report Card at

Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.

  Illinois' high school graduation rate hit 87.6%, the highest in 13 years, with the Class of 2023. Gains in graduation rates among Black and Hispanic students helped drive the overall increase. Paul Valade/
  Illinois students saw a 4.3% change in year-over-year proficiency rates in math. Brian Hill/
  Illinois School Report Card data show a 26.9% proficiency rate for math skills. Bev Horne/
  Suburban school officials said course recovery programs, additional guidance counselors and added focus to track student success starting freshman year has aided in increased graduation rates. Brian Hill/
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