Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 1, 2013

Local schools prepare for ISAT tests

Tougher standards will determine if students meet or exceed core subjects


MT. VERNON — — Local grade school students, teachers and administrators are preparing for Illinois Standards Achievement Testing which takes place next week.

While ISAT testing has been going on for years, this year, the Illinois State Board of Education has enacted more rigorous performance levels.

"Our preparation has not changed, the standards have not changed, but the bar has been set higher," explained Woodlawn Grade School Superintendent David Larkin. "The change is expected to make it more comparable with the high school testing."

The test this year have been written to what is known as the Common Core Learning Standards, which Illinois and several other states are adopting. Illinois is slated to align with the standards and the new assessment system in 2014-15.

"The high school takes the Prairie State Achievement test and the grade school takes the ISAT," Larkin said. "The PSAE has two tests, two benchmarks for success. Now it will be easier to compare the tests and results. In the past, it looked like everyone went down when they got to high school. Over time, the test standards will now align."

According to State Superintendent Christopher Koch, the state is demonstrating improvements to education.

"As part of many new initiatives, we've raised the performance level expectations on the ISATs so we can obtain a more accurate picture of where students stand against college and career readiness, Koch stated. "I fully expect that students and teachers will rise to these new expectations as they have done in the past."

Shannon Marler, principal at the Primary Center in Mt. Vernon, said their ISAT preparations are staying the same academically, but also designed to reduce the stress of test-taking.

"We're instructing them daily according to Illinois standards," Marler said. "We do all kinds of things to prepare and get them excited about taking the test."

At the Primary Center, third grade students are the ones who will be taking the test, but the entire campus gets involved.

"We want the third grade to do as well as they can, but not stress them out," Marler explained. "We put fun things into place and engage the whole campus to encourage and rally around the third grade."

The Primary Center has been awarded academic excellence awards for the last three years on its test scores. The new test standards mean a new ruler to judge academic progress.

"We will see where we can fill in any deficit gaps and areas we need to focus on when we get results back," Marler said. "No, this test won't compare with last year, but, the rest of the state is under the same guidelines. If our scores don't look as good as last year, it will be the same at other schools across the state."

Ryan Swan, J.L. Buford Principal District 80

Rome Grade School Principal Ali Tkaccenko said the staff and teachers are confident in their students ability to do well on the new test.

"Teachers have been  reviewing with them using  sample tests," Tkaccenko said. "More than anything, we are concentrating on the responses in math and reading."

Tkaccenko also said the end results are an unknown, even more so than previous years.

"We feed confident because we have traditionally done well in testing with our students and hope that continues," Tkaccenko said.

"The ISATs, used as part of the state and federal accountability system, assesses students in math, reading and science each spring, but have not proven to be a strong indicator of college and career readiness," information from the ISBE states. "The higher expectations of the new ISAT cut scores will cause an initial downward shift in the number of students who meet or exceed standards. ... This drop is a result of raising expectations, not a reflection of student or teacher performance."