We got our first look last week at the state of Oregon’s redesigned school report cards — the documents that help tell parents and others how their schools are performing.
Our overall assessment: The revised documents are a step forward.
But work remains before the report cards truly can be considered “level 5” — the top rating the state assessments reserve for Oregon’s highest-performing schools.
Parents should continue to keep a couple of cautionary notes in mind while examining the new report cards: Despite the improvements, these reports should not be considered the final word on school performance. But they can be important resources for parents and others as they shape their own assessments.
In addition, many of the yardsticks the state uses to measure school performance are in the midst of seemingly constant change. One big change: Oregon schools are moving away from the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests and adopting the Smarter Balanced tests that go with the new Common Core curriculum. So it can be difficult to use these report cards to make any kind of meaningful comparison.
The report cards and other measurements will become more useful as the standards become more consistent.
The new report cards do add a useful comparison point: Schools are rated as below average, about average or above average as compared to other schools with similar demographic factors, including poverty, mobility and ethnicity.
The report cards also assign schools a numerical rating: Schools rated at level 5 rank among the top 10 percent of all schools in the state. But levels 3 and 4 are too broad — level 4 by itself includes 46 percent of the state’s schools — so those rankings aren’t particularly useful.
Worse, a low ranking doesn’t always mean what you might think. Lebanon High School, for example, earned a level 1 ranking, the lowest score. A big reason for that ranking is the school’s relatively low four-year graduation rate — but that rate is misleading, considering that many Lebanon students are taking advantage of a program in which they stay for an extra year of high school and also start taking classes at Linn-Benton Community College.
In other words, Lebanon High School pays a price in the state rankings for trying something different to better educate its students. (It’s worth noting that Corvallis and Philomath schools have launched similar programs.)
With that said, there is much to admire in the new state report cards — even though there are some obvious kinks to work out.
But let’s resist the temptation for another major overhaul, which would only add to the confusion created by rapidly changing educational yardsticks. Let’s focus instead on some smaller fixes — and give everyone a chance to catch their breath as they adjust to an evolving educational landscape.