Local school officials say state assessment tests haven't been much use so far in tracking improvement or decline because they represent a different group of students each year.

Each year, Oregon tests students in grades three, five, eight and 10 in writing, science and math problem solving. However, due to budget cuts, grades five and eight were suspended in 2003, and due to technical concerns, the math problem-solving tests were suspended for 10th graders.

Because only certain grades are tested each year, it's impossible to track student performance, since it's a different group tested each year.

"It's so hard to do any longitudinal comparisons," said Roger Stueckle, director of elementary services for the Pendleton School District. "The 10th grade scores may not be as good as last year, but it's a whole different group of kids."

Beginning this school year, as required by President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, Oregon will expand assessment testing to include all students in grades three through eight and 10.

"I do see some advantages to seeing test scores each year from the same group of students," said Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Hermiston School District. "That way, you can better look at growth individual students are making on an annual basis."

Stueckle said the Pendleton School District is trying to focus on making sure its data system is able to track student performance to determine where individual students need more assistance. This would be easier if student assessments were available for each student.

"The problem right now with assessment tests is that the students change every year and the questions (on the tests) change every year," Stueckle said.

Last year, 72 percent of Pendleton's 10th graders met or exceeded the writing portion of the assessment test, compared to 74 percent statewide.

"That's a pretty rigorous assessment, so we're pretty pleased with that," Stueckle said.

Hermiston High School's 10th graders also were up close to the state average in their writing scores. However, like the results from third graders at Pendleton, Hermiston's grade school level writing scores were down.

"Our reading has improved so much at the grade school level because we've really focused on it," Wilson said. "We maybe didn't focus on writing as much because of that. We're looking at targeting writing a little more."

Both Wilson and Stueckle agree that their schools' knowledge and skills assessments typically fair well compared to statewide averages, but that performance-based assessments need improvement.

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