(The Center Square) – Early estimates from state officials show tens of thousands of Illinois students didn’t attend school in 2020.
When the school year began last fall, a survey from the Illinois State Board of Education found that 921,000 students would only be offered virtual learning in lieu of an open classroom due to widespread COVID-19 infections.
ISBE recently revealed preliminary attendance figures that showed as of Oct.1 a startling number of students simply didn’t show up for class.
The presentation from ISBE Chief Research and Evaluation Officer Brenda Dixon showed an estimated loss of 35,822 public school students. That’s the equivalent of nearly 2% of the prior year’s enrollment.
“That represents nearly twice what the decline was expected to be,” said Melissa Figueira, senior policy associate with Advance Illinois.
Figueira’s organization has suggested the state eliminate summer break to help students catch up on the learning losses that resulted from the pandemic and school closures.
Of the more than 35,000 absent students, an estimated 10,069 were kindergarteners. The compulsory school age in Illinois is six years old by Sept. 1, which could have led some parents to keep their children at home for the year.
Schools that lost the most students were on both ends of the financial scale. ISBE found that schools with at least 55% low-income students lost just about as much as schools with less than 30% low-income students.
Geographically, the counties with the highest percentages of absences are scattered across rural Illinois. Wayne, Edwards, and Wabash, three adjoining counties in southern Illinois, saw the highest percentages of absentees. Each had between seven and nine percent, respectively.
The school district with the largest percent of absent students was Crescent Iroquois CUSD 249, a small, rural district with fewer than 100 students. The data showed a 24% drop in attendance there.
The ramifications of a lost year could be far-reaching. A study by McKinsey and Co. estimated that, even with remote learning, the average student could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings, or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.
As of Tuesday, ISBE estimates more than 130,000 students are still not offered any sort of in-person learning. A map of these all-virtual districts shows they’re concentrated in southern Cook County and the Metro East areas, both predominantly Black and low-income.