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Mixed results in state testing data, with overall downward trend

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

and Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on September 14, 2017 8:17PM

Last changed on September 14, 2017 9:10PM


Test score data released by the Oregon Department of Education is painting a picture for school districts about where their students are struggling and succeeding.

The state publicly released hundreds of pages of assessment data on Thursday morning, showing how many students in each school passed the Smarter Balanced assessment in the spring.

Statewide, test scores in most grade levels and subjects ticked downward a percentage point or two. The department did not offer an explanation in its news release, beyond noting that participation levels are down. But Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Salam Noor said under the banner of the “Oregon Plan,” the state is implementing a number of programs to increase student performance and teacher effectiveness.

“We are confident that as we work with school and district leaders to implement the Oregon Plan, we will see more students attending school regularly, more students graduating and more scoring in the proficient category on these assessments,” he wrote in a statement.

Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe said while people tend to jump straight to comparing a school or district’s data with the state average, it is important to look at how much growth those schools have experienced and how they are performing compared to “like schools” with similar demographics. Umatilla’s elementary and high school students, for example, are performing well below the state average on assessments, but are much closer to the performance level of their peers in similar categories. Nineteen percent of Umatilla High School juniors who are considered “economically disadvantaged” passed the math test, compared to 22 percent of economically disadvantaged students statewide. The overall state average for all 11th graders was 34 percent.

“There are several areas where we are outperforming the state,” Sipe said.

The numbers can be confusing for parents to sort through, but the story they tell helps inform schools’ decisions about curriculum and where to offer extra assistance. Sipe said one telling piece of data this year was that there was growth among high school and elementary school students, but not at the middle school level.

“At Clara Brownell Middle School, we are not seeing the growth we expect and have added intervention classes for students in both math and English language arts to better support students,” she said.

Sipe said it’s hard to get a true picture of a district’s progress over the years based solely on state assessment scores, because the state is constantly changing things. It changed from the OAKS test to Smarter Balanced a few years ago, and is already discussing another change in assessment. Even during the OAKS years, the bar was raised on what was considered “passing,” and the state is planning to make the Language Arts portion of Smarter Balanced shorter next year.

“We’re not interested in chasing a (Smarter Balanced) score for our district, we’re interested in chasing student learning,” Sipe said.

Bryn Browning, assistant superintendent for Hermiston School District, agreed that it is hard to get a real picture of progress when the measuring stick is always changing.

“We never really get to compare apples to apples,” she said.

She called the Smarter Balanced data just “one piece of the puzzle” combined with students’ performance on in-class quizzes, tests and assignments throughout the year.

The data does tell a story that the district listens to. Browning noted that Hermiston’s math scores went up in every grade but 8th. The district has changed to a new math curriculum this year, so a test of its effectiveness will be if scores continue to rise, particularly at the seventh and eighth grade level, where test scores are still below the state average.

“This is where we’re optimistic we’re making a difference,” Browning said.

On the Language Arts side, however, only 5th and 11th grades saw growth from last year. Browning said that signals to the district it’s time to do some more professional development there.

Although the Milton-Freewater Unified School District saw its overall math scores improve by 3.1 percent to 23.6 percent proficiency, Superintendent Rob Clark saw cause for concern.

While grades 3-6 saw improvement, seventh, eighth and 11th grade all saw drops from the year before, with eighth grade passing the Smarter Balanced math assessment at only a 10.9 percent rate.

Clark said the district has already hired a math tutor that will work with both teachers and students at the secondary level.

Although Clark pointed to an improvement in English at the fifth grade level as a bright spot, the 40.9 percent overall passage rate represented a similar percentage where they were before.

“We’re running in place when we need to be accelerating,” he said.

According to Matt Yoshioka, the Pendleton School District’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, local administrators aren’t the only group confounded by the dip in assessment performance.

Yoshioka said the Oregon Department of Education recently called Pendleton as a part of a series of interviews with districts across the state trying to figure out the state’s downward trend in test scores.

Pendleton saw slight growth in overall math (38.2 percent passing in 2015-2016 to 39.6 percent in 2016-2017) but a more significant slide in English (54.1 percent to 47.2 percent).

Yoshioka said it would take more data analysis before they could figure out what measures they want to take to improve, but pointed out that Pendleton High School graduated 91 percent of its students in 2015-2016 (the district as a whole had an 84 percent graduation rate), a statistic that measured the ultimate goal of every school district.

Spreadsheets of test score data, which will be compiled into more user-friendly “report cards” for each school later in the year, can be found online at www.oregon.gov/ode/educator-resources/assessment/Pages/Assessment-Group-Reports.aspx.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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