Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Hallelujah, sing to Jesus, we’re learning up those K-12 kids real good.

When the state last week released the results of the 2022 Illinois Report Card, there were hosannas all around.

The state reported increases in high school graduation and more minority teachers being hired. An enthused Gov. J.B. Pritzker boasted of the “bright future” that “our children” enjoy.

Since the public can be confident state board of education officials would never misrepresent numbers to cover their own failings, there are two ways to assess the misplaced self-praise.

They are either putting lipstick on a pig or showing the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Why?

While the results could have been worse, they represent a litany of failure.

Here’s one stunning statistic. Wirepoints pointed out that “a record of 87 percent of Illinois students graduate” from high school, but “only three in 10 students taking the SAT can read at grade level.”

In the Champaign schools, population 10,157 students, 24.2 percent met or exceeded reading proficiency requirements while 75.8 percent did not. Those numbers were slightly down from the 2021 school year and way down from the pre-COVID 2019 year.

The 2022 numbers represent the devastating school closure effect on student learning from the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, 32 percent met or exceeded reading grade levels while 67.5 percent did not.

Unit 4 student math scores followed a similar pattern, with 2022 scores way down from 2019.

The scores in Urbana, student population 4,500, were even worse.

In Urbana, just 12.5 percent of students met or exceeded grade level reading while 87.5 percent did not for 2022.

In 2021, 12.7 percent met or exceeded grade level while 87.3 did not.

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In 2019, 19.7 percent met or exceeded grade level reading while 80.3 percent did not.

Urbana’s math numbers were similar. One striking statistic revealed 16.1 percent of students met or exceeded math levels in 2019. By 2022, that number fell to 10.2 percent.

In the Mahomet-Seymour district, the scores were far better, but nothing to brag about.

Its report card showed 37.7 percent of students met or exceeded grade level reading while 62.3 per cent did not.

Mahomet’s 2021 scores were similar. But, again, the decline from pre-COVID 2019 was striking.

In 2019, 50.2 per cent of students met or exceeded their grade reading levels while 49.8 percent did not.

Black and Hispanic students in all three districts performed markedly worse than White counterparts.

The numbers speak for themselves, but even the official bragging cannot survive scrutiny.

In an age of institutionalized social promotion, how impressive is it to be awarded a high school diploma? Not very — if what one learned in K-12 is considered.

There were other aspects of the board’s report that are not consistent with marginal student performance.

Over 86 percent of Illinois schools are rated “exemplary” or “commendable,” while 97 percent of teachers were reported “excellent” or “proficient.”

Fourteen of Champaign’s 17 schools received easily achieved “commendable” ratings while Franklin and Jefferson middle schools received “targeted” ratings and Washington a “comprehensive” rating.

Targeted means a school where “one or more student groups” performs at or below of the level of “all students” group in the lowest 5 percent of schools. A “comprehensive” school is in “the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Illinois.”

Six of Urbana’s eight schools were “commendable” while Urbana Middle School and Williams Elementary received the bottom-dwelling “comprehensive” label. Mahomet-Seymour’s four schools rated “commendable.”

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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