By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Schools throughout West-Central Illinois are gearing up to offer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for the final time starting next week.
Beginning in 2015, standardized testing will be offered through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- a different exam entirely.
But the PARCC test is a worry lurking in the future. For now, the ISAT will be dominating the attention of Illinois students and educators in grades 3 through 8.
Initially, public schools across the state were told they had to complete the ISAT during a two-week "testing window" between March 3 and March 14.
But because of the "extraordinary weather conditions" that caused schools across the state to cancel classes for multiple days this winter, the Illinois State Board of Education announced that schools, if they wish, could use a "modified" testing window of March 10-21.
The Quincy School District opted to stick with the original schedule and will be kicking off the ISATs next week. Some schools will offer tests just next week while others will use both upcoming weeks for testing.
Local schools are urging parents to help students be ready for the ISAT by getting plenty of rest and nourishment.
Quincy Junior High School, for example, sent letters home to parents of seventh and eighth graders encouraging them to make sure their children are prepared to take the ISAT next Monday through Thursday. Ninth graders will not be tested next week and instead will follow their normal class schedules.
QJHS has adopted a special schedule to accommodate the test-taking next week. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, for instance, the school has blocked out the period from 8:20 to 10:30 a.m. each day for ISAT testing, with a 10-minute break starting at 9:20.
Kim Dinkheller, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, said doing all the testing at one time in the morning gets everyone in the building focused on creating a quiet, positive atmosphere for taking the exam.
"We're all working on it together," she said.
Dinkheller said the ISAT -- even though it's being replaced -- is nonetheless a valuable assessment tool for the district.
"It's important to us because this is the one time that we get an opportunity to see where the students are in their learning in comparison not only to other students in their grade level here in Quincy, but in comparison to other parts of the state," she said.
Dinkheller said other assessments are also valuable, but the ISAT gives schools a glimpse of where students stand at a given moment in their education.
"This is just another piece of data that we can use to help us understand what's challenging our students as a whole but also what we can do to improve to get kids where they need to be in their learning."
The letter sent home to QJHS parents offered several tips to help students get ready for the ISAT. Among them:
º Make sure the student gets a good night's sleep the night before testing.
º Make sure the student attends school on all testing days.
º Encourage the student to ask the teacher questions if he or she doesn't understand the test instructions.
º Remind the student to bring a calculator to every testing period.
º Encourage the student to relax and do his or her best.
"The types of advice that we give to kids for ISATs is the same advice we give to students for any test they take -- whether it's a chapter test in history or it's a quiz in math," Dinkheller said. "We always like kids to know how much time they have for the test and make sure you get a good night's sleep before."