Top elementary, middle-school officials cite reasons for test success

Top elementary, middle-school officials cite reasons for test success

Superintendent Victor White likes to keep track of Prairieview-Ogden's awards.

That's why every time the school district earns a recognition, White hangs it up on his office wall.

After the Illinois State Report Card was released late last week, the superintendent had to clear some space for a new trophy: best ISAT scores in the area.

The Prairieview-Ogden district, which consists of 244 students in two elementary schools and one junior high, earned the area's top spot, with 81 percent of its students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Illinois State Achievement Test.

ISATs are state math and reading tests taken by students in grades 3-8, with a focus on science in grades 4-7.

"I feel that we may not have all the fancy frills that rich suburb districts have, but our riches are in the talent and imaginative, creative, resourceful and inspired teachers," White said. "PVO teachers are very supportive and dedicated to the students. They provide a lot of one-on-one attention and a lot of hands-on teaching.

"PVO doesn't have many discipline issues; therefore, more instruction is happening in the classrooms."

Similar to graduation rates and ACT test results, the state board cautions that it's important to take enrollment into consideration when assessing ISAT results. For example, PVO has three schools whose results figure into the district's overall score, whereas Champaign's Unit 4 has 14 schools' worth of ISAT results thrown into its district mix.

But regardless of enrollment, ISAT scores can say a lot about the overall academic environment of a district, the state board said. A district with high scores "is likely to have multiple systems that support high levels of academic achievement. These may include a high level of teacher quality, advanced courses and rigorous academic standards," the board said following Friday's release of district report cards.

Armstrong-Ellis earned the second-place slot in the area, with 78 percent of the district's students meeting or exceeding state benchmarks.

"We always wish our scores could be even higher, but with a small school like ours we always fluctuate a little," Superintendent Bill Mulvaney said of his district, which consists of one grade school, with 73 students and 12 teachers. "The one thing that makes a huge difference is the fact that because our numbers are so small, teachers are able to provide one-on-one attention to every student. That leads to a lot of success."

Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman, whose district tied Mahomet-Seymour for the area's third-best score — each had 73 percent of students reaching statewide standards for the test — credited the teachers. They've worked tirelessly to keep up with state education changes, Zimmerman said.

"We are proud of the work done by our elementary teachers and students in this area. We have worked hard to align our curriculum with the ever-changing state standards that now include Common Core," he said. "Our teachers do a wonderful job of meeting students at their academic level and taking them to new heights every year."

Educators across Illinois have struggled to keep up with the state board's changes, which last year included raising the passing bar for the math and reading portions of the ISAT. That, in turn, lowered the overall percentage of students meeting state standards for the test. (According to the state board, the lower ISAT scores since the change only reflect a push for higher standards across Illinois).

Also, the content of the ISAT has changed over the past two years, to better align with new Illinois Learning Standards.

Like Monticello, Tuscola district officials attribute the success of their elementary and middle school students to rigorous efforts to rewrite the curriculum. Tuscola was the only Douglas County district to exceed the state average of students meeting standards (59 percent). Tuscola's rate: 65 percent.

"We have finally completed realigned our curriculum to Common Core standards, so we are really zeroed in on critical thinking and analysis in the classroom," said Carol Munson, principal at Tuscola's East Prairie Middle School. "The ISAT test has changed greatly every year, so it's still kind of like trying to hit a moving target, but our basic plan of attack has been aligning with the new teaching standards."

It's really important to get the students to buy into the importance of state tests, she added, especially when they know they aren't receiving a grade for doing well on the ISATs.

"Our kids really do try to do well on the tests for their school and community," Munson said. "They really take it to heart because there is no incentive for passing other than being motivated to present themselves well, which they have done a good job of."

County champs

The top ISAT scorers from each area county, based on percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards:


1. Prairieview-Ogden 81%

2. Mahomet-Seymour 73%


1. Tuscola 65%

2. Arthur 54%


1. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 69%

2. Paxton-Buckley-Loda 61%


1. Monticello 73%

2. DeLand-Weldon 72%


1. Catlin 64%

2. Bismark-Henning and Potomac tied at 63%

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