This year's batch of school report cards doesn't have state school officials jumping for joy or reaching for the noose. After last year's strong improvement, Oregon schools simply maintained their overall position this time around.

Local schools bucked the state trend somewhat in the positive direction.

"This year's school report cards show Oregon's public schools are maintaining their focus," said Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo. "Our schools faced considerable hardship due to the last-minute switch to paper-and-pencil (tests). I am proud of what schools have accomplished during a year of great changes to the testing system."

Due to problems with the vendor who had been supplying tests for the state, Oregon had to suddenly switch from computer-based testing to paper-and-pencil tests. Although paper-and-pencil tests were once the norm, in recent years Oregon has relied primarily on the use of the electronic version of statewide testing. Therefore, according to Eric Volger, school services improvement director for the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District, some students had actually never used the paper-and-pencil method.

The changes included one-time adjustments to the scales used in the state testing program.

Of the 842 elementary and middle schools rated last year, 18 percent received higher ratings for 2006-07 compared to 2005-06, 63 percent remained unchanged and 19 percent received lower ratings. High schools - 217 of them - followed the same trend with 59 percent staying the same, 25 percent rated higher and 16 percent dropping.

In 12 local school districts, the picture was brighter - 17 schools improved, while three declined.

Parents interested in checking out their children's school districts and individual schools can log onto the Oregon Department of Education Web site. Those who do will notice two types of ratings on each report card - the federal No Child Left Behind rating and a state evaluation that takes a snapshot look at student performance and behavior with a wider lens.

The two ratings are like apples and oranges.

A glance at Morrow County School District's report, for instance, could leave one shaking his or her head in confusion. The federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rating for Morrow County is a depressing "Did Not Meet." However, another box of state results directly below shows all eight Morrow County schools are ranked either "satisfactory," "strong" or "exceptional" by the state.

"The state and the federal reporting systems are not consistent," said Morrow County Superintendent Mark Burrows. "The federal system is a one-strike-you're-out system - if you miss in one area, you don't make it."

It is a system, he said, that magnifies failure and places unrealistic expectations on certain sub-groups of students.

"A severely cognitively impaired student is expected to meet the same standards as a student in the Talented and Gifted program," he said.

The Oregon report card, on the other hand, is a way to look at each school and district in depth, both in terms of achievement and demographics.

"It's a more exact snapshot," said Susanne Smith, state communications officer.

Burrows said he was especially proud of the state's ranking of his district's three high schools. Riverside and Irrigon received "strong" rankings, while Heppner was identified as "exceptional."

"Exceptional high schools are not a dime a dozen," he said.

The only other exceptional local high school is Pilot Rock High School, a designation Superintendent Gordon Munck was happy to see.

"The state rewards improvement," he said, "and we improved significantly over the past two years."

One of the secrets to the school's success is a special class for students who are falling slightly behind.

"These kids are within striking distance," Munck said. "We give them an extra boost."

Stanfield, like Morrow County, is another district that didn't meet AYP, but shined as far as state rating. The district's elementary school and secondary school received strong ratings and showed improvement over last year.

Superintendent Dale Nees credited teachers, staff and a school board that pushed to boost performance. The district fashioned its curriculum around the state standards and went full speed ahead.

"We're not just talking the talk," Nees said. "We're walking the walk."

As far as the federal designations on the report cards, about 80 percent of Oregon's 957 schools met AYP standards, while the other 277 schools failed to meet AYP. Generally, elementary and middle schools fared better than high schools and smaller schools like those found in Ione and Helix did better than larger schools such as those in Pendleton and Hermiston.

Hermiston stayed even keel with one school declining (Hermiston High School) and one improving (Highland Hills Elementary). Hermiston's deputy superintendent, Mark Mulvihill, said his district doesn't live or die by the annual state report cards.

"The state report card is an additional measurement tool to assist schools in their efforts to increase student achievement," Mulvihill said.

He said Hermiston administrators look at the data "longitudinally" in order to identify trends.

Pendleton schools basically stayed the same with one improvement in Sunridge Middle School to strong. Except for three schools that weren't rated, all of them ranked between satisfactory and strong.

Statewide, attendance rates stayed steady as did the number of expulsions for weapons in 2006-07.

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