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Fun with numbers

Thursday, Oct 6, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Wall St. Journal editorial

No one thought Illinois schools were a shining beacon in the education landscape, but we didn’t know how truly awful so many of them are. A new report by Wirepoints using the state’s data shows that an epidemic of indifferent instruction and social promotion has left children unable to perform at even the most basic educational level.

Statewide, in 2019, 36% of all third grade students could read at grade level. That’s an F, and that’s the good news. That number drops to 27% for Hispanic students and 22% for black students statewide. In certain public school systems, the numbers plummet to single digits. In Decatur, 2% of black third-graders are reading at grade level and only 1% are doing math at grade level.

We aren’t often speechless, but the extent to which that performance is betraying a generation of schoolchildren is hard to put into words. Third grade children are eight years old, full of potential with minds like sponges to absorb what they are taught. Third grade is the year that children need to achieve a level of reading fluency that will prepare them to tackle more complex tasks in upper elementary grades that require comprehension.

A child who can’t read in third grade can’t do word problems in fourth or science experiments in fifth. Promoting Decatur children to the fourth grade when 99% are below grade level in math condemns them to future failure. By 11th grade, 5% of Decatur’s students are reading at grade level and 4% are on par in math. Why shouldn’t every single adult presiding over the Decatur schools be fired?

* I reached out to the administration for a response. From the Illinois State Board of Education…

For decades, Illinois ranked worst in the nation for funding education, and Gov. Pritzker is reversing that travesty. This uninformed article is clearly a politically motivated attack that uses bad data analysis to try to bash Illinois public schools. Looking at proficiency alone, and looking at performance in a vacuum, is an uneducated and uninformed way to examine student achievement and school performance, and most education experts agree that measuring growth in performance is key to understanding school improvement.

* Background…

• Illinois’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the gold standard of the nation’s report card – held steady across all grades and subjects from 2017 to 2019 while 31 states saw their scores drop in 8th grade reading and 17 states saw their scores drop in 4th grade reading.
• Up until 2018, Illinois had the most regressive funding system in the nation, in which the poorest school districts had the least funding to educate their students. Gov. Pritzker has invested more than $1.2 billion into increasing funding for Evidence-Based Funding since taking office.
• The funding gaps prior to Gov. Pritzker taking office were so severe that even with these increases in funding, eight out of 10 students in Illinois still attend underfunded schools.
• In FY 2019, which is the year the author focuses on, the three school districts the author highlights – Decatur, Rockford, and Chicago – were among the least funded school districts in the state. They were all Tier 1 districts – the most starved for resources that respectively had only 64%, 61%, and 64% of the funding they needed to provide a basic standard of education to their students.
• In each of these districts, more than two-thirds of students come from poverty, with learning and development gaps that start in utero. Each of these districts in 2019 achieved student growth in English language arts above the 40th percentile.
• Illinois has some of the most rigorous learning standards in the nation: ranking fourth most rigorous for 4th grade reading and fifth most rigorous for 8th grade reading. In Illinois, a student needs to earn a level of 4 or 5 to be considered proficient. In comparison, the rigor of Florida’s standards ranks 39th and 42nd, respectively, and a student only needs to earn a level 3 on the state assessment to be considered proficient.

Emphasis added.

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  1. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:39 pm:

    Am I the only one who suspects WirePoints and the WSJ editorial board don’t really care about the kids in Decatur?

  2. - Captain Obvious - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:43 pm:

    I think it is telling that the first thing mentioned in response to an exposition of the schools ridiculously low performance is funding, as if the funding will magically improve results. It’s the same disconnect we see between budgeting and governing in state government. No discussion on specifically how to improve the performance of students or why the performance is so lousy. Just blame the “funding” and move on, leaving another generation to deal the repercussions of educators shirking their responsibility to students.

  3. - Demoralized - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:45 pm:

    Why would anyone use Wirepoints as a basis for any sort of serious discussion?

  4. - Demoralized - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:47 pm:

    ==of educators shirking their responsibility to students==

    You really are Captain Oblivious aren’t you?

  5. - Larry Bowa Jr. - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:48 pm:

    “Why shouldn’t every single adult presiding over the Decatur schools be fired?”

    Is WSJ going to ask this for every non-achieving underfunded school district across the southern US? Not sure why Decatur got picked on here, other than that it exists within a state governed by someone the WSJ editorial board considers a class traitor.

  6. - Lefty Lefty - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:49 pm:

    “Fire all the teachers and administrators!” More conservative “solutions,” this time from literally 1,000 miles away.

    (BTW - how is Illinois covering up its “failure” when an editorial board in NYC can review all of the data at will?)

    I try to give the right a break, I really do, but I rarely if ever see solutions proffered. We know now that charter schools are no solution so it seems everything including education is lumped in with “more freedom” and tax cuts. And now, for education, fire all the teachers.

    I don’t feel those are real solutions.

  7. - JS Mill - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:51 pm:

    I brought up the issue with norming and states setting the score levels for below/nearing/meets/exceeds in an earlier post today.

    When we look at ACT/SAT scores (even then kids take them at different ages in different states) Illinois compares favorably.

    Using 3rd grade scores is interesting when comparing 3rd graders, but so with so many years to go and so many intervention programs, kids can catch up. It is not unusual for younger students that are low-income (ethnicity does not matter, poverty does) to fare poorly. They generally have fewer educational opportunities before school lage. But they can catch up with quality targeted interventions. And they do in Illinois.

  8. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:51 pm:

    I would actually like to know what is the curriculum to catch a child up who has been behind since in utero.

    Nothing I have seen so far, not charter schools, not private schools, not schedule E, not NCLB(unless you want to call practice tests used for scorejuking educating–I mean 1 OK the week before). Add in a generational effect and it gets even harder because now the parents have unpleasant memories of the school system.

    Poor immigrants seem to do better, but that has a variety of causes including a very different pattern of culture and cultural expectations.

    I know CPS was experimenting with a Montessori plan at some schools, might be interesting to see data from that.

  9. - A Well-Regulated Commenter - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:51 pm:

    Education performance numbers without context or year over year growth data is less than worthless.

    It’s like telling me your race time on a course I don’t know the length of or anyone else’s time. Should I be happy for you or embarrassed?

  10. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:53 pm:

    “…Wall Street Editorial Board don’t really care about the kids..”.
    It appears the WSJ folks care more about those kids than Team Pritzker, Administrators, teachers, parents and voters in Decatur.
    Those score are really bad. Feel badly for those kids. About time someone stepped up to recognize the problems we are having educating children particularly in a time where those children will have to compete globally.

  11. - Jocko - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:54 pm:

    ==but we didn’t know how truly awful so many of them are==

    Arkansas and Mississippi could only wish to be as ‘truly awful’ as Illinois.

  12. - New Day - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 2:55 pm:

    Wait, you’re saying Wirepoints cherry picked data to reinforce their point then sold their bill of goods to the WSJ edit board? Say it ain’t so. Disingenuous and willfully dishonest is all they know how to do.

  13. - DTownResident - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:02 pm:

    It is interesting that they criticize Illinois overall for 30sime percent Proficient and advanced and that is how IAR was designed since it was created to mirror NAEP. NAEP proficient is at a very similar percentage so IAR is. The website for NAEP says that proficient is not intended to meet grade level and would also be considered above grade level Funny how wsj/Wirepoints also choose districts with very high free and reduced lunch. Decatur is something like 80% of the students at that level. Scores and family income are linked. When income goes up and stays up…scores also rise. I agree with the comment why use Wirepoints at all or any other “Spelunkers”. Also why aren’t they also criticizing Desantis in Florida given those performances where I oy 25 percent of the kids are proficient or advanced? Also having set in school board meetings where millions were cut during the various governors practiced sending prorated funds where we didn’t get full state funds and we had teachers,TAs, programs admin, etc cut l..the current funding model is welcome and an improvement. It has helped in many ways even if it has not shown up in test scores.

  14. - City Zen - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:02 pm:

    ==For decades, Illinois ranked worst in the nation for funding education==

    No, it doesn’t, nor has it recently or ever. According to the most recent report from the Census Bureau, Illinois ranks #8 in K-12 per pupil funding. We’ve been in the top 40% for a few decades now. We have never been “the worst.”

    How “Illinois” is defined here is a gross misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Whatever inadequacies at the state level are more than made up for by property taxes. The majority of the nation’s school districts would love to have our overall per pupil funding. That’s a fact.

  15. - Betty Draper’s cigarette - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:06 pm:

    === as if the funding will magically improve results.===

    No not magic. Teachers, janitors, nurses work for pay. Books and desks and computers cost money. Less money means your school has to make do with less.

  16. - Grimlock - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:07 pm:

    Social promotion is a problem, but it’s the parents - not the teachers, who continue to push their kids upward without the necessary skills.

  17. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:16 pm:

    Can you imagine the right wing outrage if public schools wholesale held back an overwhelming percentage of the enrollment against parents wishes. One minute it’s parents know best. The next minute it’s the government should step in and take control. Outrage by opportunity. Spare me the crocodile tears and go back to selling little blue pills and exotic vacations to day traders or whatever pays the bills at the WSJ.

  18. - Papa2008 - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:19 pm:

    And yet, not one refutation of the WSJ numbers.

  19. - City Zen - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:27 pm:

    ==Decatur, Rockford, and Chicago – were among the least funded school districts in the state. They were all Tier 1 districts==

    The Pritzkers continue to underfund their hometown schools.

  20. - Norseman - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:33 pm:

    Anxiously awaiting JS Mill to comment.

  21. - Google Is Your Friend - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:33 pm:

    Maybe Decatur should just inflate grades like the ivy league schools do? It has happened at Dartmouth, the college attended by WSJ editorial board leader Paul Gigot.

  22. - Thomas Paine - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:35 pm:

    Proft -> Illinois Policy Institute -> Wirepoints -> Wall Street Journal

    In case anyone has forgotten how the echo chanber works.

  23. - High Socks - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 3:37 pm:

    Papa2008 - The refutation is right there in bold print at the bottom. Illinois data is reflecting higher standards than 46 other states. WSJ is taking apples to oranges data and drawing pearl-clutching conclusions that meet their “Chicago Hell Hole” predetermination

  24. - Above ward numbers - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 4:04 pm:

    == Illinois data is reflecting higher standards than 46 other states. ==

    I’m not sure why that wasn’t the first point made in ISBE’s rebuttal. But I’d like to know what IL’s grade level percentages would be if we were, say, 25th in rigor for proficiency standards. For that matter, I’d want to be sure that “proficiency” and “reading at grade level” were the same thing.

  25. - Amalia - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 4:10 pm:

    I guess I doubt the numbers because they are so bad. will want more confirmation that they are correct. but don’t doubt that there are kids adrift and mainly because so many parents are just inept. you should be reading to your kids from jump, and teaching them before they get into structured environments. there are programs that help parents who have reading issues as they help kids.

  26. - H-W - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 4:50 pm:

    = And yet, not one refutation of the WSJ numbers. =

    That’s because these are not WSJ numbers. They are WirePoint numbers.

    If you want to trust them fine. But these number are inconsistent with the actual Illinois Report Card numbers, and are also a misrepresentation of those numbers. In short, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board was duped into legitimizing false information.

    If you want see how schools are doing and how the state is doing, go to

    Choose a year (e.g., 2019). Then look at the 3rd grade performance data. You will see that the very few children are any race are failing to perform adequately. Level 1 = Does not meet standards. For the State of Illinois, only 22% of children in the 3rd grade were not meeting standards in reading.

    WirePoint is cherrypicking in order to lie about the quality of eduation in Illinois.

  27. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 4:57 pm:

    ===educators shirking their responsibility to students.===

    There’s a teaching shortage, I mean, who wants to face angry mob types that forstvtgibk teachers are “indoctrinating”, now they ain’t teaching.

    ===Team Pritzker, Administrators, teachers, parents and voters in Decatur===

    I dunno, reading this gibberish, it’s a political solution to education (or merely blame) as opposed to grasping the angle is also political.

    This lil thing is like a a trap to see how folks vent politically and about teachers, lol

    Ah. Ok. Hmm

    === Illinois data is reflecting higher standards than 46 other states.===

    We could be the next Mississippi… Arkansas… Louisiana…

    “But Team Pritzker”

    It’s been an interesting day.

  28. - Stormsw7706 - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 5:01 pm:

    Suspect presentation of data to fit a narrative.

  29. - The Dude - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 5:10 pm:

    Clearly something is wrong and everyone has an excuse.

    How about this excuse. Nothing but pathetic parents, pathetic teachers, pathetic politicians and nobody is holding anyone accountable.

  30. - Save Ferris - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 6:02 pm:

    The WSJ using Wirepoints for evidence is akin to Jerry Reinsdorf relying on Tony LaRussa for proof the Sox are good.

  31. - JS Mill - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 7:28 pm:

    The WSJ fails to explain why Illinois ACT and SAt scores are competitive with the rest of the nation if our schools are so bad.

    In Illinois high school students take the SAT junior year as a measure of readiness. We used to use the ACT. When you compare Illinois with states that give those tests at similar participation rates, Illinois compares favorably.

    That is the end result. And we are good.
    It isn’t how you start, it is how you end.

  32. - H-W - Thursday, Oct 6, 22 @ 8:29 pm:

    = It isn’t how you start, it is how you end. =

    Amen. And you compare apples with apples, not oranges.

    For the WSJ to accept a report without validating the supposed data first, and to compare three struggling school districts with the national average, and the concluding falsely that the entire state (hundreds of districts) must resemble the poorest districts (which are misrepresented by the source), is very sloppy and unprofessional.

  33. - Tired Of It - Friday, Oct 7, 22 @ 7:07 am:

    Homeschool your kids.

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