Divergent trends defined the report cards for Umatilla County’s two biggest school districts.
After the Oregon Department of Education released the documents Thursday, the data show the Hermiston School District made one of its greatest gains in high school English assessment while high school language arts proved to be one of the Pendleton School District’s most drastic declines.
And although Pendleton is buoyed by a high graduation rate but a lower on-track rate, the script is flipped for Hermiston.
The report cards give the public access to assessments, graduation rates, attendance and more for the 2016-2017 school year.
It’s the tale of two districts when it comes to the English language arts portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.
During the 2016-2017 school year, 61.8 percent Pendleton’s 11th graders scored a 3 or 4 in English, a steep drop from the 77.1 percent the year before and far below the state average and the average for similar districts.
Matt Yoshioka, Pendleton’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the district needs to take a closer look at the data to get a better idea of how to improve scores.
“We need to dig deeper,” he said.
By the time students reach their junior year, Yoshioka said many have already completed enough work samples that they no longer need to pass Smarter Balanced as a requirement for graduation. As a result, they don’t take the test seriously or perform well.
It was a different story for Hermiston.
Despite having 38 percent English language learners at the high school level, 77.4 percent of Hermiston juniors got top scores in language arts, outpacing the 71.1 percent state average and the score for similar districts.
Hermiston Assistant Superintendent Bryn Browning said she was proud that almost every grade level performed better than the state and similar-school average.
She said the improved English score can attributed to the hard work of the high school staff, including both language arts teachers and other teachers who have language components in their curriculum.
But Browning also noticed that middle school scores took a step back.
“We weren’t working with the best educational resources,” she said.
Hermiston adopted a new math curriculum at the beginning of the school year, about two years after the state’s adoption schedule. As teachers and students start to familiarize themselves with the new curriculum, Browning anticipates scores rising.
Pendleton and Hermiston’s graduation data are an inverse of one another.
Pendleton’s 2015-2016 graduation rate was 83.9 percent, a more than 9-point improvement from the year before when it was around the state average. But its 2016-2017 freshman class is on-track to graduate at only a 74.9 percent rate.
Regardless of test scores, Yoshioka said spurring students toward graduation is always the most important goal of every teacher from kindergarten through 12th grade. Additionally, Pendleton has a track record of turning a relatively low on-track rate into a higher graduation rate.
In Hermiston, district seniors’ 65.7 graduation rate, significantly lower than both the state and similar school average, was contrasted with a 83.8 percent on-track rate.
Browning said the district does take some optimism from the high on-track rate. She added that the high school’s efforts to broaden its course offerings and hire a graduation coach will eventually be reflected in the data.
The number of Pendleton and Hermiston high school students who are defined as “regular attenders” — students who attend school at a 90 percent clip or more — are well below the rest of their peers at other grade levels.
Browning said Hermiston’s 71.1 percent rate is actually higher than the 67.3 percent state rate and the high school is working diligently to continue the upswing.
Yoshioka said regular attenders rates, like Pendleton’s 76.2 percent, are generally sub-par in high schools across Oregon.
He said attendance tends to drop more as high schoolers get closer to finishing school.
Sometimes its a case of “senioritis.” Other times, it’s students who realize their credit deficient as they’re entering their last year of high school, their discouragement fueling their lack of attendance.
Weather could also play a role in poor attendance: Yoshioka said last year’s preponderance of snow days suppressed attendance, not only on the day itself, but on the days before and after.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.