March 31, 2003 10:24 PM

Schools want kids to `do their best' on ISAT

By Robin J. Youngblood, Staff writer

After months of practice and preparation, some Quad-Cities students will begin taking standardized tests soon.

Third- through fifth-graders and seventh- and eighth-graders are taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Eleventh-graders will take the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

Teachers give the tests for about an hour each day for two weeks. Students are tested on math, reading, writing, science and social studies, depending on their grade level.

Their scores, to be released this summer, will determine the future of some schools because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires all students to meet state learning standards by 2014.

In the Rock Island-Milan School District, and in several other districts across the state, the Illinois Board of Education will have its eye on schools on its academic warning and watch lists.

Four schools in Rock Island are on the state's early warning list -- Lincoln and Hawthorne-Irving elementaries, Rock Island High and Edison Junior High -- and Grant Intensive Basic Elementary is on the watch list. Schools go on the warning list because less than half of their students met state standards. Those on the watch list haven't made state-mandated progress for the past two years.

John Flaherty, Rock Island County Regional assistant superintendent of schools, said the biggest part of the test is ``trying to encourage all the students to take it seriously.''

This year is critical for students and some schools, Mr. Flaherty said. A change in federal law makes these scores part of a student's permanent record. Some schools also might have to offer students the choice to attend another district school if scores in their building don't improve.

Continued low scores also could mean placing an outside person at schools to help write the school improvement plan, offering tutoring to students or having the state intervene in school operations.

Jay Marino, Rock Island's assistant superintendent of curriculum, said that while testing is important, the district doesn't place too much emphasis on it.

``We are not heavily focused on the test,'' he said. ``We are more interested in providing a more well-rounded education based on the Illinois Learning Standards. Teaching to the test and teaching to the learning standards are two different things.

``There's more of an awareness in our district, but it doesn't necessarily change what we're doing. We have a good plan, and we're working the plan.''

The district's first testing day is Monday, and some schools have been making extra preparations. Denkmann Elementary principal Scott McKissick said students there have taken some sample ISAT tests, and teachers and staff are telling kids to ``do their best.''

At Washington Junior High, math teacher Susan Neece said she has taught the learning standards all year and this week is doing an ``intense review'' with her students by giving sample ISAT math tests.

Grant Intensive Basic Elementary principal Darryl Taylor said his staff is trying to positively promote the test.

``We tell them that it's an opportunity to show everyone what they're capable of doing'' and also ``for everyone to see the positive work (they've) done this year.''

In 2002, 77 percent of Grant fifth-graders met standards in writing, the fourth-highest percentage of students that met standards in that area. It was an increase of 38 percentage points from the 2001 test, according to ISAT records. That level of improvement wasn't seen at any other school, even when many districts across the state saw writing scores decline.

The district feels positive about the upcoming ISAT scores because of students' good results on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Third-, sixth- and eighth-graders took that test in November.

Mr. Marino said sometimes there are correlations between scores on the ITBS and the ISAT.

``We are hopeful, and we do expect to see academic achievement gains district-wide,'' he said. ``There is some correlation between the ITBS results and the ISAT results, and because the ITBS results were positive this year, we're expecting positive results on the ISAT.''

Staff writer Robin Youngblood can be reached at (309) 786-6441, Ext. 257, or by e-mail at