DuPage County schools bouncing back more strongly from COVID-19 learning loss than others

While educators statewide continue to covet growth and proficiency levels achieved before the pandemic, DuPage County school leaders already are reaching higher.

Illinois School Report Card data released Thursday indicates a statewide academic rebound from two years of learning loss suffered during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools throughout DuPage County, however, appear to be bouncing back more strongly and quickly.

Earlier this week, officials said it might take a decade for segments of the state to return to pre-pandemic learning levels. But in Naperville Unit District 203, administrators said pre-pandemic levels will be met and possibly exceeded within just a few years.

"The mindset here isn't just to go back to 'normal,'" said Patrick Nolten, the district's assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability. "We want to get even beyond that and use this past 2½ years as an opportunity to grow and move the district as a whole forward to an even higher level of academic and overall excellence. It isn't really enough to settle for what was."

In the Illinois Assessment of Readiness administered in third through eighth grades, 67% of District 203 students met or exceeded grade-level standards for English language arts, and 60% met or exceeded mathematics standards. That's compared to 59% in English and 58% in math in the 2020-21 school year.

In the 2018-19 school year, before the pandemic hit, 68% of District 203 students met or exceeded English standards while 70% did so in math.

Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200 students saw similar improvements. In English, 47.9% of students met or exceeded standards in 2022 compared to 43.9% in 2021. In math, 62.9% of students met or exceeded standards in 2022 compared to 56.7% in 2021.

Although there's room for improvement in comparison to 2019, District 200 still rates among the top unit districts in the state. Student growth, which measures progress from year to year toward or beyond the grade-level standard, particularly was strong.

Because so many bench marks already have been reached, Superintendent Jeff Schuler said the path to prepandemic learning levels will be shorter for District 200 students.

"The markers certainly show that we're well on the way," Schuler said. "If we continue on the trajectory that we're on, by this time next year we're going to have surpassed those prepandemic outcome levels."

Based on the SAT college entrance test participation numbers and scores, students in Glenbard High School District 87 posted similar results compared to the 2020-21 school year. In English, 37.9% of students met or exceeded standards last school year, while 38.8% of students did so in math.

The district's four high schools ranked among the state's top performers in SAT scores in relation to the percentage of low-income students, said Patrick McGill, the district's executive director for teaching and learning, curriculum and pathways.

Keeping pace with the previous three school years, the district's average SAT scores - 511 in reading and 502 in math - were 46 points higher than the state average.

While crediting the curriculum and the work being done in classrooms, McGill noted the district's free SAT course for juniors that began three years ago. He said the 749 students who participated last year saw an average 76-point increase in their test scores.

"When you put us in context with the rest of the state, we're really doing well and our students are doing well," McGill said. "The things that we put in place have paid off in dividends in the hands of our talented teachers."

  Math specialist Rosa Huerta reviews information with students at Washington Junior High School in Naperville. Sixty percent of third- through eighth-graders in Naperville Unit District 203 met or exceeded math standards in 2022. Brian Hill/
  Learning support coach Sarah Malik works with seventh-grader Kaniyah Harris at Washington Junior High School in Naperville.Sixty percent of third- through eighth-graders in Naperville Unit District 203 met or exceeded math standards in 2022. Brian Hill/
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