Unit 1 Schools earn exemplary ratings



In the words of Unit 1 Superintendent Chris Spencer, “there are some really good things happening in Coal City Schools and there are some areas we need to work on.” 


The comment came upon release of the 2023 Illinois Report Card, a document that takes a formulated look at how students are performing in the classroom compared to their peers across the state. The local school data was  published by the Illinois State Board of Education [ISBE] at the end of October. 


Three Unit 1 schools received the highest ranking and were designated exemplary—Coal City Early Childhood Center, Coal City Elementary School and Coal City Intermediate School. These academic centers rank among the top 10 percent of all elementary schools in the state. 


According to ISBE, the summative designation describes how well a school is doing in meeting the needs of its students. There are several indicators that go into calculating a school’s level of performance. 


Jennifer Kenney, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, reports at the elementary and middle school levels academic indicators total 75 percent including  25 percent  growth in both English/language arts [ELA] and math. Proficiency in ELA and math are 7.5 percent  and science and English learner progress to proficiency is 5 percent.  The remaining 25 percent is based on school quality and student success indicators that consist of a climate survey, 5 percent, and chronic absenteeism which is 20 percent. 


“The Intermediate School did amazing, they scored 92.18 and the cut score was 81.33,” Kenney said. 


It was the highest score achieved by a district academic center for the 2022-2023 school year.The fourth and fifth grade students were proficient in all areas compared to the state proficiency target that was set at 59.8  percent for ELA, 57.17 percent for math and 67.69 percent in science. The school’s ELA growth was reported at 68 percent and math at 64 percent.


“I can’t say enough about what they are doing. They look at the data and make adjustments. They do a phenomenal job at really  looking at what they do in the classroom and make adjustments to meet those goals,” Kenney said. 


Coal City Elementary School’s exemplary designation came with an overall index score of 88.30. The school’s students were fully  proficient in both ELA and math.


The Early Childhood Center received full points in ELA and math proficiency. 


Coal City Middle School and High School received commendable designations, meaning they had no under performing groups, but didn’t quite make the top 10 percent. 


“The middle school was just shy of reaching that exemplary status, they are two points away from that,” Kenney said. The school’s overall index score was 79.46. 


The school’s proficiency in ELA, math and science met the state target and it was compliant with the required climate survey.


“You are going to see ELA and math growth went down and that’s going to be looking specifically from sixth, seventh and eighth grade to freshman year looking at that growth,” Kenney said. 


 In terms of growth, the state report card puts middle school growth at  59 percent in ELA and 49 percent in math. 


“They had growth, but that growth was not as big as other schools and other students at those levels,” Kenney said. 


One area targeted for improvement in those four grade level buildings is math, as the growth in that subject area is not as significant as the district would like it to be. “So math is something that we are going to have to focus on in the next couple of years to see where we can make improvements to get that growth back up where we want it to be,” Kenney said. 


Proficiency in math and ELA is another area the district will be looking to improve upon. While Kenney said it was a highlight, it’s also something she said the district needs to continue to work on because of the long-term goal the state has set.


The district will maintain a focus on the science of reading, an area that is developing through a new instructional method adopted by the district’s reading specialists and classroom teachers. 


And, there will be a renewed focus on getting students into class each day as the state’s report showed levels of chronic absenteeism at all levels. Chronic absenteeism is classified as missing more than 10 percent of the school year. So given the number of attendance days in an academic year,  a student who misses 17 or more days falls in that category. 


“We want to see our students at school, so we need to come up with a plan and some measures that will help increase attendance, “ Kenney said. 


The district will also be preparing for additional  indicators that will be added in by the state in the coming years, including fine arts. 


The indicators that go into figuring a high school’s designation are heavily based on graduation rate. Again, academic indicators total 75 percent with ELA and math proficiency at 7.5 percent and science at 5 percent. Graduation rates account for 50 percent and 5 percent is assigned to English learner progress to proficiency. The remaining 25 percent of the pie is determined by absenteeism, participation in the climate survey and  the percentage of ninth graders on track to graduate.


Coal City High School received an overall score of 88.13. A score of 91.24 or higher was  required for a school to achieve exemplary designation. 


Based on data from the 2022-2023 school year, the high school received the maximum scoring percentage for graduation rate and participation on the climate survey. The district also scored high—93 percent— when it comes to the percentage of freshmen on track to graduate—those who have earned at least five credit hours in their ninth grade year and not failed more than .5 credits in any subject.


A highlight in the high school report card  points to the school’s high graduation rate of 96 percent. Kenney also noted the school’s college and career readiness standards as a highlight.


“I have to point out we implemented the Acclaimed Coaler program a few years ago and that  is in preparation to be included on the school report card in 2024-2025, so I think we are ahead of the game with that which is exciting,” Kenney said. 


As for areas targeted to be worked on at the high school level are student proficiency in ELA, math and science and boosting participation levels in fine arts as that will also become an indicator starting with the 2024-2025 academic year. In fact, fine arts will be an indicator at all grade levels in the coming year.


Since the data is linked to the students' performance on the annual spring assessment that includes the SAT college entrance exam, Kenney said  she has spoken with teachers at the high school with regard to motivating students to fully engage in the testing.  “We have a lot of  kids that go to the trades that don't need an SAT score or are  going to a college or university where it's an optional thing—a lot of them are switching over to that. So there is something that we need to do to motivate our students to better understand what that test is all about,” she said. 


The exam is given to high school juniors and the results of the test, administered in spring 2023, show 22.2 percent of the class of 2024 met or exceeded the state standard in ELA, a drop from the year before when 32 percent met or exceeded the standards. Coal City’s scores fell below the state average of 31.6 percent. Compared to neighboring high schools, Coal City was behind Morris, Wilmington and Reed-Custer. 


Coal City was also under the 26.7 percent state average in math with a meets/exceeds percentage of 19.9. 


“We are going to work on some things and Ms. Kenney has already put some changes in place with department heads and staff members that I believe will address some of the things we are seeing,” Spencer said. 


In the coming months, the district will also be focusing on additional indicators that are slated to go into effect with the 2024-2025 school year including P-2 indicators at the Early Childhood Center that will be based on grades in core subjects and elementary and middle school indicators that will be rooted in grades  and student discipline. 


In presenting the designations, Kenney also provided data showing how students in grades 3-8 performed on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness [IAR] exam that tests kids in the areas of ELA and math. 


In the area of ELA, third grade students at Coal City Elementary School finished ahead of the state average with 33.4 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. In math the state average was 33 percent and Coal City had 39.3 percent proficiency. 


Going back to the success seen in the summative designations, the Intermediate School’s, “fourth grade knocked it out of the park,” with its test scores. The school had 53 percent of its students proficient in ELA. 


“That is a huge increase from third to fourth grade which really impacts our designations when we look specifically at growth,” Kenney said. 


The state average was 35.4 percent and the students outperformed their counterparts in 11 other schools. 


Last year’s fourth graders were slightly behind students in Wilmington  when it came to math. The scores show 44.8 percent being proficient placing the local kids second out of 11 comparative schools. The state average was 27.7 percent.


The intermediate school’s fifth graders had the highest scores out of eight area schools in both ELA and math. This is the second consecutive year fifth grade has been at the top of the chart in math and third year in ELA.  For the 2022-2023 school year 52 percent were proficient in math and 72 percent in ELA. 


At the middle school 65.2 percent of sixth graders taking the test last spring were proficient in ELA and 46.8 percent in math. The students posted the highest scores when compared to six other districts and nearly doubled the state average in both subject areas. 


In seventh grade,  students increased their year-to-year ELA scores moving from 63 percent proficient in 2021-2022 to 73 percent in 2022-2023. And, in the area of math the students had 54 percent in the meets/exceeds category up from 47 percent the previous year. 


Eighth grade ELA scores increased from 77 percent proficient to 81 percent  and that was double the state average. In math, 50.7 percent of the students met or exceeded the state standards with a state average of 25.7 percent. 


“Eighth grade ELA has been one of those  grades that has been consistent for us for many years. They have made some great improvements and they’ve sat down and looked at their data and what they are doing,” Kenney said. “It’s phenomenal, because by 2033 we need to be at 90 percent across the state and they are pretty close to that marker already.” 


The report card puts the district’s overall  proficiency in ELA at 58.5 percent, math at 44.7 percent and science at 62.5 percent. As for district wide growth, ELA was 62.5 percent and math 54.9 percent, statewide those percentages were 48.8 and 49.7 respectively. According to the state, growth recognizes progress toward and beyond the standard.