Lake County schools hire more staff to curb pandemic decline
Despite extra efforts of educators during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 Illinois Report Card data show many Lake County students have fallen behind. So the question to school districts becomes, what is being done to help students get back on track?
At Warren Township High School, just 44% of students met or exceeded expectations in the English language arts portion of the SAT college entrance exam, and just 34% of students did the same in mathematics. Christopher Geocaris, District 121's assistant superintendent of instructional services, said both of those marks were out of line with what the district has had in years past.
"Kids still learned," Geocaris said. "But when you dive into results, they didn't learn like in the past."
In 2019, around 48% of Warren High students met or exceeded expectations in English and 42% did the same in math on the SAT. Because of the pandemic, the mandatory tests weren't conducted in 2020.
Geocaris said the district has made a push to identify students who have struggled and help them by hiring social workers and interventionists. They aim to help students catch up on credits they may have lost during the pandemic or support them in classes they are taking now.
He said the program has been funded by recent federal grants, including the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion aid package signed into law by President Joe Biden in the spring.
Susan Center, chief operations officer for Round Lake Area School District 116, said her district has hired 10 interventionists, one for each district school and two for Round Lake High School. Center said the interventionists are able to help with the issues that students may have returning to the classroom setting after learning remotely.
"Some students are having trouble sitting in their seats without bouncing around," Center said. "(Teachers) engage with students and identify how they're feeling and work on taking negative feelings and making them positive."
Report card data show 13% of Round Lake High students met or exceeded expectations in English and 9% of students did the same in math on the SAT in 2021. Both of those numbers are down slightly from 2019 when 15% of students showed proficiency in English and 12% were proficient in math.
The numbers dipped as well for younger District 116 students who took the Illinois Assessment of Readiness. In English, 14% of students were proficient in 2021, down from 16% in 2019. In math, only 6% were proficient this year, down from 13% in 2019.
Center said the district did its own assessments separate from the state tests at the start of the school year to get a better sense of students' skills, so they could restructure the curriculum accordingly. She said the assessments allowed officials to get a sense of which skills had lapsed, like phonics or comprehension.
"We had horrible fears of significant gaps in learning, but we're not seeing that at all," Center said. "I'm so proud of our teachers but also our students and parents for making the effort.