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Illinois schools rate C’s for performance, education group says

Updated: December 15, 2012 6:22AM

An influential education group Tuesday gave Illinois’ effort in public education slightly improved grades — mostly Cs — despite a “disturbing” trend of mostly flat academic performance.

Illinois’ uptick in grades from two years ago — when it drew a D in one of three grades issued by Advance Illinois — came because it managed to hold steady educationally despite an increasingly needy student population, leaders of Advance Illinois said in their second biennial “Report Card on Public Education in Illinois.’’

For the first time, half of Illinois public schools now serve populations that are at least 40 percent low-income, said Robin Steans, Advance Illinois executive director.

In addition, in the mere two years between 2010 and 2012, the state’s low-income public school population grew from 45 percent to 49 percent in K-12 and from 26 percent to 32 percent in four-year colleges.

Plus, said Steans, many states faced similarly increasing challenges, but, unlike Illinois, their national ranking dropped.

For its K-12 effort, Illinois was rated a C-, up from a D two years ago; a C + for its “postsecondary readiness and success,’’ up from a C in 2010; and, once again, an “incomplete’’ for its work in early childhood education, where little data exists on how well prepared Illinois kids are for kindergarten.

Advance Illinois was founded in 2008 by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and Democrat Bill Daley, former White House chief of staff and former U.S. commerce secretary.

The group was a pivotal force behind bills that ended “last in-first out” teacher layoff rules statewide that made it more difficult for Chicago teachers to strike and that required Illinois teacher evaluations be tied in part to student performance.

Those efforts and others, if built upon, Daley said, promise to eventually boost Illinois beyond the “mediocre results you see now.’’

Advance Illinois looked at a battery of statistics to issue its grades, and, where possible, tried to rank Illinois’ performance nationally.

Steans called it “disturbing” that in 10 years, the percent of Illinois students hitting proficiency benchmarks on a national fourth-grade reading test has only moved from 31 percent to 33 percent. On the same national test, only a third of students were proficient in eighth-grade — the same amount as two years ago.

The percent of Illinois high school graduates going to college dropped in the last two years, from 60 percent to 57 percent, according to the Advance Illinois report. But the percent of students graduating from public four-year colleges increased during that period, from 59 percent to 63 percent.

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