Urbana looks for improvements on state testing

Urbana City Schools didn’t score well overall on its state report cards this year, but North Elementary School received an A in K-3 Literacy and the high school got a B for graduating students.

Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said while the district is working hard to improve scores, changing tests and standards have hurt the district.

“We knew it was not going to be fantastic results, there is just no way when changing the assessment the last three years,” Thiel said. “Our teachers and students had been through the mill and inundated with change over the last four or five years.”

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District scores dropped across the state this year. The tests students take have changed in each of the past three years. Urbana schools scored Fs on its gap closing grades and Urbana High School scored a D on the prepared for success grade. East Elementary scored a D on its progress component while Urbana Junior high scored an F.

Thiel compared state testing and state report card grades to basketball. He said a team may understand the rules and know how to play the game, but if you continue to change the size of the basketball and the height of the rim, there will be issues.

“The standards have changed, and you can’t except to get great results out of a basketball team if they have never touched the ball and they never shot,” Thiel said.

A basketball team will be able to adjust, Thiel said, but it will take time. He said the state has changed the testing procedures so often and students have had a hard time making changes on the fly.

“It will take a while to get recalibrated to be successful,” Thiel said. “And they will do it, but you just have to give them time. But we have not been given any time to be able to recalibrate.”

All of the Urbana City School individual buildings, besides Urbana North Elementary, scored Ds on their achievement component. North was not rated in that category.The achievement component is a grade that indicates whether the students are meeting indicators in subject areas.

North scored an A on K-3 Literacy Improvement, a grade that is supposed to determine whether students are advancing their reading skills throughout the year. Thiel said the district has made primary literacy a priority. He said reading is a key to success in all grade levels and subjects.

“We have always known if a student can read the assessment, they are going to do well on the assessment,” Thiel said.

The district has started providing one-on-one reading tutoring to their younger students during school hours and are assessing them throughout the year to see how they can improve — and how the school can best serve their progression.

“You have to balance (testing) because I think if an assessment is well done and well designed can give you a good picture of where the student is at and you can target your instruction,” Thiel said.

Parents outside Urbana North said they believe Urbana City Schools provides a good education to their students. Brittany Castle said she and her family went to Urbana City Schools and it was important to her that her children go as well.

“The school system seems to be doing pretty well,” she said. “They serve a wide range of kids. My daughter is advanced so she gets extra help to make sure she doesn’t become bored in class.

“I love my son’s teacher,” Castle said. “You know the teachers and they seem to work well with the kids.”

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