One DuPage County district bucks trend of declining results on state report card

  • Daniel Zielinski, 18, left, works with teacher Keith Santini in shop class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. DuPage High School District 88 bucked the trend of suburban students struggling to meet profiency standards.

      Daniel Zielinski, 18, left, works with teacher Keith Santini in shop class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. DuPage High School District 88 bucked the trend of suburban students struggling to meet profiency standards. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/11/2021 5:18 PM

Schools across DuPage County saw declines in students' English and mathematics proficiency skills during the past pandemic-impacted school year, mirroring a statewide trend, with one notable exception.

DuPage High School District 88 saw an increase in students meeting or exceeding standards in reading and math on the SAT college entrance exam, 2021 Illinois Report Card data show.

 

That, school officials say, is because from the start of the school year, the district prioritized in-person instruction for high-need students, including English learners and students with disabilities. The district also provided in-person and online tutoring, invested in technology for full synchronous remote instruction, conducted home visits and concentrated on social-emotional supports, officials said.

Yet, the latest school- and district-level results are not comparable to pre-pandemic years for several reasons and can't be used as a yardstick to measure student performance or growth, educators say.

Alejandro Martinez, 17, changes out spark plugs on a car in auto class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. The school went from 22% English proficiency in 2019 to 29% in 2021. In math, those figures were 21% in 2019 and 24% in 2021.
  Alejandro Martinez, 17, changes out spark plugs on a car in auto class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. The school went from 22% English proficiency in 2019 to 29% in 2021. In math, those figures were 21% in 2019 and 24% in 2021. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Among those factors is that not all students took the state standardized tests typically administered each spring -- the Illinois Assessment of Readiness and SAT college entrance exam. They are mandatory for students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade, respectively, in a typical school year.

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In addition, a strained learning environment with schools shifting between a hodgepodge of remote and hybrid in-person instructional models, as well as poverty and language barriers, were major challenges affecting performance.

"No school in the area has a full data set," District 88 Superintendent Jean Barbanente said. "We have not had a mandatory test really since 2019. Because of the safety concerns, not all students were comfortable coming on campus to test (during the pandemic). We feel that our kids did really well ... considering everything that they were dealing with."

About 75% of 11th-graders at Addison Trail High School and about 80% of students at Willowbrook High School took the SAT in the spring.

Addison Trail went from 22% meets and exceeds in English proficiency in 2019 to 29% in 2021. In math, 21% met or exceeded standards in 2019, compared to 24% in 2021.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Willowbrook maintained 42% meets and exceeds standards in English from 2019 to 2021, while math slipped from 40% meets and exceeds in 2019 to 35% in 2021.

Meanwhile, at Naperville Unit District 203, roughly 80% to 84% of third- through eighth-graders took the state test in the spring. Participation rates were lower for students dealing with poverty, academic disability and English learners, said Patrick Nolten, District 203 assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability.

Of those tested in third through eighth grades, 57% met or exceeded English standards, and 49% met them in math in 2021. Typically students' proficiency percentages are in the 60s.

For the SAT, 97% of 11th-graders participated and scored at 63% in English proficiency and 61% in math for 2021. Those scores are down from what they would have been during a typical year.

"We saw a lot more spring fatigue, or test fatigue, because kids in pretty rapid succession participated in this test, the math test and some other tests that we typically do near the end of the year. So that could influence performance," Nolten said.

In Elgin Area School District U-46, which crosses over Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, only 19% of students met or exceeded standards in English language arts on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness in the 2020-21 school year compared to 28% in 2018-19.

Daniel Escobar, 16, hones his soldering skills in shop class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. The school went from 22% meets and exceeds in English proficiency in 2019 to 29% in 2021. In math, those figures were 21% in 2019 and 24% in 2021.
  Daniel Escobar, 16, hones his soldering skills in shop class Thursday at Addison Trail High School. The school went from 22% meets and exceeds in English proficiency in 2019 to 29% in 2021. In math, those figures were 21% in 2019 and 24% in 2021. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

And only 18% of students at the state's second-largest school district met or exceeded math standards in 2021 compared to 27% in 2019, preliminary spring testing data show.

That's in line with the statewide trend for most schools showing steep declines in students attaining proficiency in English and math across grade levels -- 16.6% and 17.8%, respectively.

However, only half of U-46 students in third through eighth grades were tested in the spring when they were split between remote an in-person learning, U-46 Assessments Coordinator Matt Raimondi said.

On the SAT, 27% of U-46 students met or exceeded standards in English and 24% met or exceeded math standards in 2021. That's compared to 2019 percentages of 27% in English and 25% in math. And again, only about 70% of students took that test, Raimondi said.

"We're really hesitant ... to use the results for any kind of high stakes just because there's so many factors that were influencing that data," Raimondi said.

Test participation was much higher at some neighborhood elementary schools where a majority of students walk to campus, said Laura Hill, U-46 director of assessment and accountability.

One of those was Ontarioville in Hanover Park, where 82% of students took the test. There, students meeting standards dropped from 20% to 10% in English between 2019 and 2021 and from 23% to 5% in math. Students there are 83% low-income and 81% English learners.

Hill said it could take two or three years before students are back on track from pandemic-related learning loss.

Schools statewide received a waiver for state assessments in the 2019-20 school year when the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted learning, closing schools in March of 2020. There is no data available for that year.

• Daily Herald staff writer Kevin Schmit contributed to this report.

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