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Report: Low-income students in Metro East pass tests at rates well behind classmates

School Illustration
File | Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

Third-grader students who live in low-income homes  underperformed their more well-off classmates by 50 percentage points in seven Illinois school districts in 2016, according to the advocacy organization Voices for Illinois Children. 

In its annual Kids Count report released last week, the group also noted that only 22 percent of Metro East third-grade students met expectations on the most recent state English test.

That’s about half the passing rate for students from more well-off families. Students in low-income families from St. Clair and Madison counties also were behind their classmates who come from wealthier homes by 30 points on the sixth grade math exam. 

The numbers reflect a school funding system that is marred by inequality, Voices for Illinois Children President Tasha Green Cruzat said.

“More often than not, we give low-income and minority students in Illinois less effective teachers, less experienced principals, a less rigorous curriculum, and fewer resources. And then we shrug our shoulders and say ‘those kids just can’t be expected to be high achievers,’” Green Cruzat said in the report's introduction.

“Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. There is no single policy or program that will ensure success for every student. If we want Illinois to be the best state for all children to grow up in, then we must change these systemic inequities.’

Voices for Illinois Children said the state’s new school funding formula is a step toward creating a more equal system, but historically, Illinois has had the most unequal funding in the country. According to a 2015 study from Education Trust, Illinois school districts with mostly low-income children received nearly 20 percent less from the state than students in more affluent districts.

But some schools in the state had a much less significant achievement gap. Kids Count said that is evidence that steps can — and are — being taken to level the playing field.

Preschool access

The 2017 report ranks Illinois in the top five in the country for preschool access, thanks in part to the state’s Preschool for All program. It provides preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds at risk of academic failure because of language, development or financial limitations.

Even with the program, nearly 50 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool.

In the Metro East, however, more than 80 percent of low-income children have access to preschool.

That’s despite a loss of 30 preschool and Head Start locations in St. Clair and Madison counties between 2010 and 2015, resulting in a loss of more than a thousand seats.

Voices for Illinois Children is part of the nonpartisan Annie E. Casey Foundation network, which compiles a nationwide Kids Count database each year.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille