Report: Illinois ranks among Top 10 nationally in academic growth, bottom third in proficiency

Illinois ranks among the Top 10 nationally in academic growth, but it falls within the bottom third in proficiency, according to a new education report.

Experts say this lag in student proficiency is tied to a lack of access to quality early childhood services, which leads to persistent achievement gaps.                                             

“There aren’t enough students entering kindergarten ready, and there are pretty significant gaps in readiness depending on race and income,” said Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois, a nonprofit advocacy group that released its “The State We’re In 2019” report Tuesday, measuring the state’s educational performance from early childhood through college.

The report highlights the need for more investment in early childhood education, improving reading and math proficiency, and addressing achievement gaps among races.

It provides an analysis of growth trends from 2007 to 2017 by tracking student outcomes, leading indicators and learning conditions, and compares Illinois’ performance to that of other states. Among its key findings are:

• Only a quarter of Illinois children demonstrate kindergarten readiness across three key developmental areas: social and emotional development, mathematics and language and literacy.

• Illinois exceeds the national average in student academic growth but trails the nation in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency.

• More Illinois students are graduating high school, enrolling in higher education and earning degrees. But there are growing gaps in degree attainment by race.

Student growth in math performance from third through eighth grade puts Illinois in sixth place nationwide. Illinois ranks eighth in the nation in reading growth. Latino students are outpacing the state and nation in growth in math and reading between third and eighth grade, the report shows.

“Four out of 10 districts in the state are beating the nation in student growth, but the problem is kids are too far behind to reach proficiency,” Steans said

Among fourth-graders statewide, 35% met proficiency standards in reading and 39% in math. Among eighth-graders, 36% were proficient in reading and 32% in math, per the report.

Overall, 26% of Illinois’ incoming kindergartners are demonstrating readiness across all three developmental areas, and 39% are not ready in any. Readiness broken down by race shows 32% white, 22% black, 15% Latino and 18% low-income students are prepared when entering kindergarten, the report shows.

Across suburban school districts, overall readiness levels differ vastly, according to the 2018-19 Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, or KIDS, used by Advance Illinois in its analysis. It shows as low as 1% of students were considered prepared in all three areas at Mundelein Elementary District 75 to as high as 58% in Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200.

Illinois has programs serving roughly 50% of its up to 5-year-old population from low-income homes. The state is doing a better job supporting low-income 3- and 4-year-olds with about 84% enrolled in state- or federally funded preschool programs. Parts of the state have more preschool seats than needed while others are considered “provider deserts,” Steans said.

To access Advance Illinois’ regional analysis by school district, visit