Snow days bring delay in state tests for some schools
Around the third snow day, Ann Burton was growing concerned. By the eighth, she was downright nervous.
After all, testing for the Illinois State Achievement Exam was right around the corner in March. But all of those days off had left students at Hoopeston Area Middle School, where Burton is principal, behind in the curriculum and preparation for the high-stakes test.
"Between the snow days and two holidays, I think we've only had two full weeks since we've come back from Christmas break," Burton said Thursday.
As a result, teachers haven't been able to cover all of the academic content they had planned to yet — material likely to be included in the test, which state officials use to determine whether students, schools and districts as a whole are meeting Illinois learning standards.
And "one of our biggest concern was ... just a lack of continuity in education because of all of the days we'd missed," Burton said. "Kids like routine. Teachers like routine. And part of preparing them is making them feel comfortable in that testing environment."
The regular testing window for the ISAT, taken by third- through eighth-graders, typically is held the first two full weeks of March. High school juniors take the two-day Prairie State Achievement Exam, but not until late April.
This year, state education officials extended the regular ISAT testing window an extra week due to the "extraordinary" weather conditions this winter.
That will give districts a chance to postpone testing for a few days or a week, said Matt Vanover, an Illinois State Board of Education spokesman.
"Obviously, we've had a significant weather event throughout the state," Vanover said, adding some of the 850 districts in the state have reported taking "upwards of" 10 to 15 snow days. "We believe ... we can extend this window a bit and still be able to turn the scores around in time."
Most area districts — including Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Bismarck-Henning, Catlin, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Heritage, Mahomet-Seymour, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, St. Joseph-Ogden, Mahomet-Seymour, Rantoul City Schools, Rossville-Alvin, Thomasboro, Tuscola and Westville — were out anywhere from four to 11 days due to the weather. But officials said they plan to stick to their schedule and begin administering the test Monday.
Testing will take place Monday through Friday, and make-up tests for students who were sick or absent will be conducted the following week.
"We lost seven instructional days, so I wanted to give our teachers the option of postponing it if they didn't feel like they'd given enough instruction," said Kurt Thornsbrough, principal of the Armstrong-Ellis grade school district. "But they felt like we're ready, so we're proceeding full steam ahead."
Mahomet-Seymour administrators also decided not to delay after weighing the pros and cons, said Mary Weaver, the district's director of instruction. Though students were out seven days, she said the district is making up instructional time by eliminating three early dismissal days.
"It had already been established and communicated" with parents, Weaver said, adding that parents have been asked to avoid absences or scheduling appointments during that time. "Also the past two years when the testing schedule backed up to our spring break, we were unable to complete the testing of some students due to families leaving early for break.
"This year, we had a week between ISAT (testing) and break. We felt maintaining the communicated testing schedule would result in the highest attendance for our students."
Hoopeston schools Superintendent Hank Hornbeck decided to push back testing a week after consulting with elementary and middle school teachers. Students will take the test March 10-21, and make-ups will be taken the following week.
"They've missed eight days, so we wanted to give them a chance to catch up and any extra advantage that we could," he said, adding he doesn't foresee any problems finishing the tests and packaging up all of the materials before the district goes on spring break the last week of March.
Oakwood and Prairieview-Ogden schools also plan to push back testing a few days.
"They felt that we needed another week of preparation because of the five days we missed," said Victor White, Prairieview-Ogden's superintendent.
"This is a year-long process," he said of preparing for the test. "So you want to make sure you're covering most of the lessons. If you missed five days of lessons, you want to give them every opportunity you can to make them up."