BEMENT – School administrators say they can't make targeted plans to help students learn if they don't know results of achievement tests they took last spring.
State school officials now say scores for the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests – the foundation for most school improvement plans and for work plans for individual students – won't be released until January at the earliest.
Area administrators say their teachers worry that they'll be giving the next round of tests, typically in March, before they know the scores from the last round.
Illinois is one of only two states in the country yet to release scores from the 2005-06 school year. The other state, Montana, got advance approval from the government for the late release.
Superintendents say the company picked by the Illinois State Board of Education to administer and score the 2005-06 tests has failed dismally, compromising results that are part of a high-stakes effort at the federal level.
"It erodes people's confidence in this process," said Darrell Stevens, superintendent of Bement schools in Piatt County. "We're getting to a place where there's not a lot of confidence by the schools that these tests reflect what they're supposed to reflect."
Todd Pence, superintendent of St. Joseph elementary schools, said his district's biggest issue is that teachers can't look at individual and class scores and plan their lessons accordingly.
"We can't see the areas our kids have trouble with," he said. "That leaves us guessing. We have preliminary totals but not individual scores. We're happy with what we think we'll get but we can't make plans to help individual kids. And that's the whole reason they moved tests up in the spring, so we'd have a year to help kids before they're tested the next year."
"It's moved the whole process back a year."
To make matters worse, officials got word this week that scores for part of the PSAE test given to high school juniors have been challenged, so they're not getting those back either.
Doug Kepley, principal of Bement High School, said his graduating class is small, 36 students, and he's pretty confident that the preliminary results are pretty accurate. But he echoed the frustration of others.
"It makes it tough to prepare, to see what we need to work on, " Kepley said.
"We have a pretty good idea what we need to work on, but those scores include a lot of useful official data," said Keith Oates, superintendent of the Mahomet-Seymour district.
In an e-mailed reply to questions about what's going on with the ISATs, ISBE assistant public information director Andrea Preston said district report cards are supposed to be released by Oct. 31 each year but this year's new testing company, Texas-based Harcourt Assessment, had trouble "with test printing, collating, delivery and scoring," and mistakes by some districts entering data last spring complicated the process.
The latest school report cards have ever been made public was in the 2002-03 school year, when they were released in November, Preston said.
The '06 logistical and scoring delays in Illinois cost Harcourt at least part of its job: The company will develop next year's test, but ISBE in October hired a new company, Pearson Educational Measurement, to print, distribute and score tests for the next three years.
Michael Shonk, superintendent of the Tolono-based Unity schools, also said the difficulties last spring – included duplications and late-arriving materials that caused some schools to reschedule tests – and delayed scores now undermine confidence in test results.
"I'm sure there isn't anyone who wasn't in some way impacted by the problems with the testing," Shonk said. "It makes you question the accuracy."
Bill Trankina at Rantoul City Schools is looking ahead – for a very good reason. His elementary district this year reorganized into grade centers to make maximum use of resources. The restructuring is accompanied by aggressive faculty training programs, and Trankina wants to see how that improves scores in tests to be given this spring.
"Having last year's scores would be helpful, but we're focusing efforts on our new school improvement plans," said Trankina, superintendent of the district. "We're changing, we're documenting and we're more interested in the '06-'07 information."
"These are high-stakes tests, and we're supposed to be accountable," Shiloh district Superintendent Jim Acklin said. "I don't mind that. Accountability is a good thing, But doggone it, the state can get the scores back in a timely fashion."
"It's beyond frustrating," said Andy Larson, superintendent of the Heritage district based at Broadlands. "It's getting to the point where if there's not accountability at the state level, I don't know how they can expect accountability at the local level."