Projections of student enrollment commissioned by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and those done internally by the district, coupled with the significant declines in enrollment attributed to COVID-19 in the last two years, leave a great deal of uncertainty about what enrollment will look like in the future.
The issues are complicated because the enrollment projections commissioned by the district are for student enrollment in August, rather than Oct. 1, and there are significant drops between enrollment in August and Oct. 1, the official enrollment date, which are not fully explained.
The midlevel projections by the district’s demographer project the district will lose another 936 students in the next four years, and 2,127 students in the next 10 years.
Overview of demographer’s report
On Feb. 14, 2022, demographer Charles Kofron, working on behalf of Cordogan & Clark and pursuant to an agreement with School District 65, presented a Geodemographic Study dated January 2022 to the District 65 Personnel, Building & Grounds and Finance Committee.
One reason for commissioning the report was to obtain projections of the district’s student enrollment for the next five and 10 years, and to obtain more detailed data compilations and projections that could be used in redrawing the district’s attendance areas and assessing space utilization and building capacity.
On a districtwide basis, Kofron reported “actual” K-8 student enrollment for the last 10 years, noting that the last two years, 2020-21 and 2021-22, were impacted by COVID-19. Schools were closed to in-person learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic and opened with restrictions at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Student enrollment declined significantly in those years.
Kofron used birth data and actual enrollment data to project what District 65’s K-8 student enrollment would be in the next four years, using high, mid and low scenarios. He then extrapolated what it would be in the subsequent six years.
A chart in Kofron’s report summarizes the actual enrollment numbers he used and the projections he made. The chart is reprinted below.
Sorting out enrollment numbers
Kofron’s report states that District 65 provided “95,522 records that spanned the last 10 academic years as of September 30.” The report sets out one exception: “It must be noted that the 2021-22 student record count was taken from August 2021 enrollment records.” The report then states that the student count differed between the August 2021 enrollment records and a subsequently obtained set of records, and the difference amounted to 461 students. “[I]t was decided (jointly) to use the first dataset in its entirety (i.e., records obtained in August 2021),” says the report. 
Kofron’s report says that the actual K-8 student enrollment for School Year (SY)’21-22 was 7,411. The district’s Opening School Report for SY’21-22 reports, however, that the district’s K-8 student enrollment for SY’21-22 was 6,393 students as of Oct. 1, 2021 (not counting Park and Rice schools, which together served 52 students). This is the district’s “official” student enrollment reported to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Kofron’s enrollment number is thus 1,018 students higher for SY’21-22 than the number in the district’s Opening School Report.
Kofron’s actual K-8 enrollment numbers are also significantly higher than the actual K-8 enrollment numbers reported in the district’s Opening School Report for the prior six years. The chart below shows the actual enrollments reported in Kofron’s report and the actual enrollments reported in the district’s Opening School Reports for the last five years.
The chart below shows the difference – the amount by which the actual enrollment reported in the Kofron report exceeds the actual enrollment reported in the district’s Opening School Reports.
The RoundTable asked Kofron and Sarita Smith, the district’s Manager of Student Assignment, why Kofron’s “actual” enrollment numbers were higher than the actual enrollment numbers reported in the district’s Opening School Reports. Smith replied in an email:
“Projections were based on August enrollments provided by our student information system. There were conversations about using the opening of school numbers or actuals from when school began. Due to the COVID impact, we decided to use the August numbers because we anticipated many students returning and wanted to account for them in projections. For fidelity, we had to pull August for all years; we could not just pull for the last two years. This is why the Cordogan and Clark numbers are different from the opening of schools.
“We decided to use higher numbers because we must have a seat for all students, whether or not they are enrolled in our schools. The higher numbers allowed us to remove some of the COVID impacts and have better numbers for redistricting, planning, and space utilization. The reality is that we are providing ourselves the cushion needed during these uncertain times.”
The RoundTable asked Kofron if he had any comment on Smith’s statement. He said: “It’s all true. Remember the context of the study – support for the district’s master facility plan.”
In a subsequent email, Smith confirmed that all of Kofron’s actual enrollment numbers reflected student enrollment in August, and that he was projecting what student enrollment would be in August of each year, as opposed to as of Sept. 30. She said District 65 representatives agreed that he would do this, and said, “We decided to use higher numbers because we must have a seat for all students, whether or not they are enrolled in our schools. The higher numbers allowed us to remove some of the COVID impacts and have better numbers for redistricting, planning, and space utilization.”
The RoundTable asked why there was such a significant difference between the August enrollment numbers and the enrollment numbers as of Oct. 1. Smith said, “This is my 2nd year at the district so I cannot explain those years. Due to student file auditing, the numbers are typically a little higher than in October.”
No analysis was presented showing why so many more students are enrolled in August than on Oct. 1. For SY’17-18, 8.6% of the students who enrolled in August were not enrolled a month later. For SY’21-22, 13.8% of the students who were enrolled in August were not enrolled a month later.
With respect to the August enrollment numbers, the RoundTable asked for the specific date in August to determine if the enrollment was before or after the first day of school.
In projecting student enrollment, Kofron said he rolled up the student enrollment numbers from one grade level to the next higher grade level, applying a Cohort Survival Ratio (CSR). Thus, he would roll up a cohort of kindergartners in SY’21-22 to first grade in SY’22-23, a cohort of first graders in SY’21-22 to second grade in SY’22-23, etc., applying a CSR. The Cohort Survival Ratios were generated from a comparison of previous grade enrollments.
Kofron made his projections using three different assumptions, which would generate high, mid, and low projections. The high used the average of the three highest CSRs in the prior five years (and it would not include the two COVID years, in which there were steeper declines); the mid used the average of the three middle CSRs in the prior five years (and it would include only one of the COVID years); and the low used the average of the three lowest CSRs in the prior five years (and it would include both of the COVID years). He explained that using the three highest CSRs in the prior five years, would reduce the impact of the significant declines in the two COVID years.
A table in Kofron’s report shows that, on a districtwide basis, the CSR ratio was less than 1.0% for all grades and for all three scenarios, except that for grades 2-3 the ratio was 1.000094 in the high scenario, and for grades 3-4, the ratio was 1.003307 for the high scenario. It thus appears that the model does not assume that there will be a return of students who left the district in the last two years due to COVID.
Kofron also gathered the records of births to mothers who resided in Evanston and used that data to project kindergarten enrollments, again applying a CSR from birth to kindergarten.
The number of births to Evanston residents has declined by more than 30% over the last decade, Kofron said, and kindergarten enrollments at District 65 declined by about 26% in the last six years. He added that enrollments of K-5 students will probably continue to decline due to the impact of larger enrollment declines during the COVID years, and taking into account the decline in birth rates.
District 65’s methodology
District 65 prepared its own five-year projections of student enrollment, and they are reflected in a memo prepared by Smith on Dec. 13, 2021. A key difference between its projections and those made by Kofron is that the “Projections provided in this memorandum are based on October 1st enrollment numbers,” according to the memo. And the district is thus projecting what student enrollment will be as of Oct. 1 in future years.
Under the district’s methodology, current year students are rolled forward to the next higher grade, and it adds an estimate for kindergarteners using birth records. It does not use a CSR. The model does not assume that there will be a return of students who left the district in the last two years due to COVID.
The chart below compares the enrollment projections made by Kofron with those made by District 65. Kofron’s starting K-8 enrollment is 7,411 students, and he is projecting what enrollment will be on some date in August. His projections are shown in the blue, orange and gray lines. District 65’s starting K-8 enrollment is 6,497 students (a little higher than the enrollment stated in the Opening School Report), and it is projecting what enrollment will be on Oct. 1 of each year. District 65’s projections are shown in the orange columns.
District 65 is thus projecting a decline of a total of 233 students over the next four years.
The high end of Kofron’s projections project a loss of 89 students in the next four years. While the projected number of students in SY’25-26 is 7,322 students, about 1,058 more than projected by District 65, that projection is for the enrollment in August 2025, and District 65 is projecting enrollment as of Oct. 1, 2025. Historically there have been significant differences been District 65’s enrollment in August and its enrollment as of Oct. 1.
Kofron’s mid and low scenarios project a loss of 936 and 1,748 students, respectively. The chart below illustrates the projected declines in enrollment.
The various projections leave a great deal of uncertainty. It is unknown why there are such significant drops in enrollment between August and Oct. 1; also whether students who have left the district in the COVID years will return, and if so, how many. If Kofron’s projections are used, it is unclear whether to use the high, mid or low scenarios.
It appears that in some respects the district is using enrollment as of Oct. 1 (or more recent enrollment data) in making recommendations and presenting information to the community. A memo, “New Student Assignment Project Proposal,” dated March 7, 2022, prepared by Smith for the school board, recommended a new school in the Fifth Ward and new boundaries for the attendance area schools. The memo reports that the student enrollment at the K-5 schools is 4,196, 95 students higher than the K-5 enrollment reported as of Oct. 1 in the Opening Schools Report and 580 students fewer than the actual student enrollment reported as of August in Kofron’s report.
A Cordogan & Clark table, “Capacity & Utilization Calculations,” posted on the district’s website reports the current enrollment and capacity of each school. The total enrollment for the K-8 schools totals 6,494, 101 students more than the total reported in the Opening Schools Report, three students fewer than the enrollment reported in Smith’s memo dated Dec. 13, and 917 less than the enrollment reported as of August in Kofron’s report.
1] Kofron’s report says, “The district provided 95,522 records that spanned the last 10 academic years as of September 30. Student records for 2021 were also included and processed in the dataset received in August 2021. In all, 90,932 or 95% of the student records were geocoded successfully or address matched to the district’s parcel and address point base map. Of the remaining 4,650 unmatched student records, the district was provided 425 unique addresses to manually review. Adding the results of this review to the matched, in-district student count, resulted in a total of 78,825 student records in grades K-12 from school years 2012-13 through 2021-22.
Kofron’s report gave one cautionary note: “It must be noted that the 2021-22 student record count was taken from August 2021 enrollment records. Another file of 2021-22 records was provided by the district which was 461 student records lower than the total counts in the August file. Comparing the total student record counts from the two student record data sets and, after consulting with the district on the differences in totals not only for the 2021-22 school year but also the goodness of fit of the 2021-22 student records from the August data set compared to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) enrollment totals, it was decided (jointly) to use the first dataset in its entirety (i.e., records obtained in August, 2021).”
The RoundTable asked Kofron to comment about these provisions. He did not respond.