CPS students’ reading gains rank among top 3 large districts in the nation, study finds

Chicago Public Schools officials are celebrating new research that shows students have recovered to pre-pandemic reading levels and outperformed most large school districts nationwide.


District officials acknowledge they still have a ways to go to increase proficiency and close opportunity gaps. But they see the findings as evidence that CPS has spent its pandemic relief funding wisely to stem learning loss — and a reason for additional funding moving forward.

Growth is just the first step,” CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said in an interview. “Our students need sustained support, so they cannot only show growth, but we are ultimately aiming to increase in proficiency and attainment for our students.”


The Education Recovery Scorecard, a study conducted by Harvard and Stanford universities, shows Chicago’s 3rd-8th grade students rank third among large districts nationwide in reading growth from 2019 to 2023.


Of the states analyzed, Illinois saw the most gains in reading during that time, and was one of only three states analyzed whose reading

achievement now exceeds 2019 levels. Students made up more than a third of a grade level from 2022 to 2023.


“Any improvement of such a magnitude was a remarkable achievement, since it implies that the average student learned 133 percent or more of the typical learning over the academic year last year,” researchers wrote.


Chicago schools demonstrated an even higher increase than the statewide average, and Black CPS students saw some of the greatest growth in reading achievement compared to other large urban districts.

Math scores still behind

In math achievement, the state and district remain well below pre-pandemic levels, although the state was among five that saw the smallest losses, researchers said. The study estimates Illinois students lost one-third of a grade equivalent between 2019 and 2022, while CPS students lost three-quarters of a grade equivalent in that time.


Researchers estimate the state made up over half of those math losses by 2023, but CPS, facing a much larger deficit, still has ground to make up.


“Clearly, we have a long way to go,” Chkoumbova said, but she stressed none of the progress was accidental.

She attributed CPS’ growth in reading achievement to investments in its tutor corps, in-school academic interventionists and instructional coaches for teachers.


“These are significant shifts,” Chkoumbova said. “ I’m very proud of the work everyone has done, our teachers, our principals, our students, most of all, and these significant shifts in practice take time. I know that school systems don’t improve overnight.”


How CPS will continue to fund these programs remains to be seen.


Many of those strategies implemented during the pandemic were made possible by federal

funding that is set to expire next year, raising concerns over whether CPS can maintain these programs and sustain academic growth.


Even if Illinois students maintained last year’s impressive learning pace, there is still no way they would be caught up by the time federal funding expires in September, according to Education Recovery Scorecard’s findings.


COVID-19 relief funding has papered over a structural deficit that officials estimate at $691 million for next year, with only $300 million in federal funding left to spend.


CPS received $27 million in state funding last year and will likely receive a similar amount this fall, although advocates have called for more spending, as federal pandemic relief funding expires in September.


“The right strategies are in place to promote that accelerated growth that our students deserve,” Chkoumbova said. “We are looking to make a call to everyone — state, federal elected officials, community-based organizations, philanthropies — to continue to help us and to help us in bigger ways, [so] that we can sustain these investments.


“We cannot let our efforts down because we have a long way to go in closing the opportunity gap,” she said.


With budget planning for next school year well underway, Chkoumbova said she doesn’t expect significant shifts in funding priorities. But officials haven’t presented any sources of additional funding.


“For the next school year, we will guard the investments that really work within our schools to support students,” Chkoumbova said. “But for the long run, we will need help to sustain them.”

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