May 6, 2003 12:00 AM

R.I. schools changing dates for ITBS testing

By Robin J. Youngblood, Staff writer

For years, taking the ITBS test in November has been a rite of passage for students in the Rock Island-Milan school district.

Starting this fall, though, the testing will be moved to September and expanded to cover grades three through eight.

The district hopes testing two months earlier will help teachers more quickly determine students' weaknesses. Since it now operates on a year-round calendar, the district believes it can move the testing up without a negative impact on results.

The district currently administers the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to third-, sixth- and eighth-graders every fall. The standardized tests cover language, math, social studies and science skills.

Students also take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, in the spring. ISAT scores are used by the state to determine whether schools are meeting state learning standards, part of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The district hasn't been receiving results from either standardized test early enough for teachers to adjust lesson plans to help students in areas where they are having problems, explained superintendent David Markward.

Rescheduling the tests ``will help us more accurately find some of the problem areas that students have,'' he said. ``It's also a predictor of how they may do on the ISAT, so then we have several months to address those areas of students weakness.''

The ISAT testing schedule will remain the same.

Mr. Markward said identifying students' problems earlier will also help them not fall behind on grade-level skills.

Expanding the district's ITBS testing to include fourth-, fifth- and seventh graders will cost about $25,000 more annually.

``Teachers are doing with students what doctors do with their patients,'' said assistant superintendent of curriculum Jay Marino.

The change in testing times is part of a five-year strategic plan recently completed by a committee of school board and community members,

The plan has four major goals: improving the district's work force, improving student achievement, improving the district's relationships with parents and the community, and improving spending practices.

``Part of `Excellence Every Day' (the district's motto) is strategically planning your own journey, your own destiny, so our strategic plan is our vehicle to continuously improve,'' Mr. Marino said.

Starting this month, the district will meet with parents to determine what type of training to offer parents, so they can in turn help their children. The training will be provided throughout the year, starting in September.

Also in the works is a long-range plan for the future use of its buildings, and possible changes in school boundaries. A committee has been formed to discuss the issues and will give its recommendations in September.

School board president Elma ``Mooch'' Gay said the strategic plan committee knows the population and neighborhood demographics surrounding schools will change over the next five years, which may affect building use and school boundary lines.

``We have to seriously look at that,'' she said.

Other goals included in the plan are to:

-- Continue with a new teacher induction and mentoring program that started with the 2001-02 school year.

-- Continue applying for funding to implement the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all students meet state learning standards by 2014.

-- Establish a building intervention team that will address behavioral, academic and social needs of students.

-- Evaluating and improving partnerships with area businesses.

-- Promoting the schools by using technology and a public relations program.

Staff writer Robin Youngblood can be reached at (309) 786-6441, ext. 257, or by e-mail at robiny@qconline.com.