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CPS test scores dropped during pandemic, mirroring statewide trend, new data shows

The results offer the widest view yet at the pandemic’s academic effects, though critics question how valuable standardized testing is at evaluating children’s education.

Student test scores went down statewide this year.
Creative Commons/ timlewisnm

Chicago Public Schools students’ math and reading scores on standardized exams dropped this year compared to pre-pandemic days, newly released data showed.

The results offer the widest view yet at the pandemic’s academic effects, though critics such as the Chicago Teachers Union question how valuable standardized testing is in any year at evaluating children’s education, and particularly during a public emergency that has upended kids’ lives.

In late October, the Illinois State Board of Education released average statewide metrics showing test scores had dropped across Illinois and absenteeism had increased during the pandemic. On Thursday, the board published data on individual district and school levels; you can search schools or districts at illinoisreportcard.com.

The Illinois Assessment of Readiness, or IAR, is a spring exam measuring third- through eighth-grade students’ mastery of math and English grade-level standards. About 90% of districts — enrolling 70% of the state’s students — opted into the test last spring.

At CPS, 21% of kids met or exceeded English standards this year, compared to 28% in 2019. In math, only 16% met or exceeded expectations, down from 24% the year before the pandemic. The test wasn’t administered last year.

Similar trends, though not as steep, were seen on the SAT college-entrance exam administered to 11th-graders.

About 23% of students met or exceeded expectations in English this year, down from 26% in 2019. And 21% reached satisfactory levels in math this year compared to 27% before the pandemic.

The state cautioned that some data, including a science assessment, was not available because circumstances in 2021 rendered the data substantially incomplete or unreliable, among other reasons.

Carmen Ayala, the state’s top education official, said the data is valuable because it “gives local communities more insight into the impact of the pandemic on their students and what they need to recover.

“We are confident that the full return to safe, in-person learning and the significant state and federal investment in our schools will provide the conditions for all our students to thrive in the coming years.”

CTU President Jesse Sharkey, however, cited the pandemic in saying “to grade any person, or any school district, under these circumstances is cruel ... when everyone’s M.O. for the past year has been maintaining proper health, safety and sanity.

“Our students, their families, our educators and entire school communities have dealt with enough pressure without the burden of standardized assessments, which were administered during one of the most chaotic periods in recent memory.”