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Where are central Illinois students recovering fastest from COVID-19 learning loss?

In this May 27, 2020, photo, teachers Jana Blair, right, and Aaron Rainboth, upper-center, wear masks as they work with kids at the Frederickson KinderCare daycare center, in Tacoma, Wash.

MATTOON — Black and Hispanic students are learning more quickly in the Mattoon school district than in any other school district in east central Illinois.

The Illinois State Board of Education published information on student growth  Thursday alongside its 2022 Illinois Report Card. The state calculated growth for local schools and districts by measuring student achievement over the course of a year against peers starting at the same grade and assessment score.

“Unlike proficiency rates, which correlate strongly to family income and education levels, growth responds to factors like quality teaching and school improvement efforts,” says state superintendent Carmen Ayala.

Statewide, students learned more last year than they did in the previous year, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning.

“We have challenges and work ahead of us, but the accelerated rate of learning that students achieved last year means that we’re headed in the right direction,” Ayala says.

Why are Black and Hispanic students progressing so quickly in Mattoon?

Black and Hispanic students in Mattoon rank first in the state’s growth metric among peers in Champaign, Coles, DeWitt, Douglas, Ford, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt and Vermillion counties.

Mattoon assistant superintendent Christy Hild attributes this growth in both math and language arts to students taking charge of their own learning.

“We honored the whole child, and we equipped them with the knowledge of what they were working on. We weren’t doing interventions to them,” Hild says.

For example, a first grader may decide she wants to progress from recognizing three key words to 35 words by the end of December. She chooses from a few strategies to get to her goal and decides to spend every lunch period with her reading tutor. Every week, she talks with a friend about whether they accomplished their goals.

Every student does some version of this goal setting process.

Even though the district has added more tutoring, afterschool and summer school time, Hild thinks this teaching change is the most important.

“Those things by themselves would have fallen short of the growth we have seen. If we just focused on those interventions, it would have made a huge difference, but this is exponentially different,” Hild says.

Mattoon Community Unit School District 2 serves 3,059 students in Coles County.

A relatively small percentage are Black or Hispanic, compared to other large school districts in the area. Just under 5% of students are Black and just over 5% are Hispanic. About 80% of students are white.

The Black students with the next largest gains in language arts attend Danville District 118 schools. Black students in Champaign Unit 4 schools rank second for fastest growth in math.

Hispanic students learned language arts second fastest in the Argenta-Oreana school district. In math, Argenta-Oreana ranked first in its ability to accelerate learning for Hispanic students and Mattoon ranked tenth.

Where do low-income students learn reading fastest?

Low-income students in Cerro Gordo in Piatt County have jumped ahead in reading – faster than their peers across east-central Illinois.

Brett Robinson is the superintendent of Cerro Gordo Community  Schools. He attributes student progress to early reading programs, like small reading groups and individual tutoring for those playing catch-up.

“We have four specialized teachers in the early elementary grades that have ongoing training each year,” Robinson says. “And they set aside portions of their day to do one-on-one, 30 minute sessions for those students.”

Cerro Gordo Community Unit School District 100 is a small, rural district in Piatt County. Of its roughly 500 students, about one-third are low-income. Over 90 percent of students are white.

After Cerro Gordo students, low-income students in Rossville-Alvin Community Unit School District 7 learned reading fastest.

The east-central Illinois school district able to catch its low-income students up fastest in math was Prairieview-Ogden District 197.

Find more data on schools and districts across Illinois at IllinoisReportCard.com.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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