Philomath School Board artwork

Students that opt out of standardized testing appears to be threatening the value of the Oregon Department of Education’s report cards. That’s what longtime Philomath School Board member Rick Wells indicated Thursday night during the group’s regular monthly meeting.

“I’m really frustrated with this thing that they want us to look at this report card and we don’t have a clue at what our district is doing,” Wells said. “We don’t know the whole test results of all the kids that should be taking them. And it’s very frustrating.”

Each year, the Oregon Department of Education releases report cards for schools and districts to provide educators with a tool for communicating with parents and their communities about how the local schools are performing. The reports also monitor certain trends and measure progress in reaching goals in areas such as graduation rates and test scores.

The state legislature enacted a law allowing students, with a parent’s permission, to opt out of the Smarter Balanced test. However, the U.S. Department of Education does not recognize Oregon’s opt-out policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which tracks student participation as one measure of success.

As a result, student proficiency rates are often lower than the actual outcomes.

The topic came up at Philomath’s meeting during discussion of this fall’s release of state report cards. Administrators at each school, including Kings Valley, provided a report in addition to summarized report card information and accountability details. Numbers on the district as a whole were also included.

“The majority of the information on the state report card leans on standardized, Smarter Balanced assessment, which is one state test that is taken by portion over multiple days that really just reflects a point in time in a student’s career, including how good of a day that kid is having,” Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff told the board.

Goff said Philomath shows up well compared to other results across the state.

“The state itself does not trend well on the assessments and so we have a lot of questions about what does that mean for us trending well in a state that itself is not doing extremely well?” Goff said. “What are the other measures and tools that we need to look at in conjunction with the assessments so that we make sure we’re making really health decisions as a district.”

Wells believes the opt-outs create an unreliable state report.

“How can we get an accurate report when we allow the kids to opt out because we don’t know if they’re the upper kids that don’t want to mess with the test or kids that may be afraid that they’re not going to do very well and don’t want to take the test?” Wells said.

As a result, Wells has questions about the test-taking option.

“I don’t know where I can go or who I need to talk to and say, ‘hey, you need to change this?’” Wells said.

After Goff said it was the state of Oregon, Wells looked to Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District representatives that were in the audience.

“OK, we’ve got two guys here with Linn Benton Lincoln ESD that are touting these legislative policies and whatnot. How about you go to the OSBA and say ‘hey, how about you do this and make all the kids take the test? Don’t allow for any opt-outs.’”

David Dowrie, Linn Benton Lincoln ESD board chair, was at the meeting for a presentation on changes in relation to Oregon School Boards Association priorities and policies.

“How come OSBA isn’t on the bandwagon for this right now?” Wells asked. “So who do I need to talk to at OSBA to get them wound up?”

Wells received contact information from them.

“I’m a little wound up on this in the fact that it doesn’t give us anything that I think is usable,” Wells said.

School board member Greg Gerding agreed that the report does not provide a full picture but added, “I’m guessing you have a much better feel for how your students are doing than just from this, such as grades or whatever indicators you use as to how your students are really doing other than just these reports?”

Administrators from each school responded with details on what they are doing in that arena.

Drag-racing team

In other news from Thursday’s meeting, Malcolm Rose and others returned for a second month to talk to the board about reviving a drag-racing team, an extracurricular program that had been established in past years for students interested primarily in auto mechanics.

Mike Bussard, PHS principal, provided his response to the situation in a letter in which he shared information that he had gathered. Bussard said the drag-racing team hasn’t been active since 2015 and it had been dismantled for a variety of reasons, such as student interest, inadequate facilities and lack of an adviser.

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The space that had housed the old auto shop has since been converted to storage for district facilities and grounds department equipment. One vehicle that had been loaned to the school has been returned to the original owner, Bussard added, and a second vehicle was a gift to the district from Jimmy Willingham with the title signed over in 2001.

Bussard said in the letter that a “lack of adequate space for storage and operation, student interest and the liability burden accompanying such a program, Philomath High School is dismantling the drag-racing club.”

Through board conversation, it appeared that it’s possible the drag-racing team could be revived but in the same vein as the equestrian or alpine ski team programs. Although they participate under the “Philomath High” name in competitions, those activities involve off-campus sponsors and raise their own funding.

“This action does not stop students interested in drag racing to pursue their passion beyond the school,” Bussard said in the letter. “Philomath High School will commit to promoting drag-racing activities at school. The high school will also allow flyers and informational material to be available at the school.”

Board members discussed the issue and had various questions, including concerns over possible liabilities. When Gerding asked if the school might do something to assist, such as help find a sponsor, Goff said “there’s a gentleman who has expressed interest in doing that. Whether he would follow through, I don’t know.”

Rose said the club does not want any money, only space. He also said the drag-racing club can be beneficial to all types of students.

“What’s more important is every one of these kids graduate and go on to be a big part of the community,” Rose said.

Rose said the team’s size in the past had been limited to six to 10 students. Student requirements had included having a driver’s license and keeping up with their academics.

“Personally, I’d like to make sure the plan we have in place allows students to take part in something because I think it’s good for students,” board chair Jim Kildea said, although he admitted there are many questions to be answered. “I think it’s very valuable and I think it’s important. If it helps one student, I’m for it.”

Kildea added that there needs to be the “right balance of team support, sponsor, space, everything has to be there.”

“I’d still probably like to go back and see if some of the questions that we’ve raised tonight, see if we can get those answered, and make sure that we’re not just eliminating an opportunity for kids,” Kildea said.

Goff suggested the board might consider coming up with guidelines for the district to follow.

“The decision around having the club really is a staff-based decision,” Goff said. “Where I would really encourage the board to have a conversation around is … what are our parameters for shutting down or opening clubs?” she said.

On a side note, the 1968 Pontiac GTO that had been donated to the district in 2001 was on the consent agenda to be declared surplus and to be sold. The vehicle’s value was estimated at $4,500 to $6,500.

The consent agenda was later approved, but the car was eliminated from the vote.

Other business

In other news from Thursday's meeting:

• David Low, Philomath city councilor who serves as a liaison to the school district, talked to the board about communication between the two governmental entities, especially in light of significant growth on the horizon.

• Dowrie gave a presentation on changes in relation to OSBA priorities and policies. Later in the meeting, the board approved a resolution to adopt updated priorities and policies and also approved an amendment to OSBA’s bylaws relating to the composition of the board of directors.

• In her superintendent’s report, Goff shared information on the district’s “equity story,” which includes details on enrollment trends and various student measurements in comparison to others. Goff said the numbers show Philomath doing “extremely well.”

• The board approved a consent agenda, which included bills, minutes, the second reading of two board policy updates and an out-of-state field trip for the boys basketball team to Alaska.

• The board approved two fund-transfer resolutions. The first involved donations of $16,495 to the forestry program with $8,995 from Miller Timber going into an instruction category and $7,500 from Friends of Paul Bunyan earmarked for support services. In addition, $422,516 went into the general fund under instruction with $266,228 coming from additional property taxes and $156,288 in local option levy funds.

• The other fund-transfer resolution involved the acceptance of the $734,889 award from the Benton Community Foundation to go toward Clemens Community Pool. Of that amount, $534,823 is transferred now — $420,500 to the capital improvement fund under facilities, $34,720 to special revenue funds under support services and $79,603 to special revenue funds under community services. The other $200,066 will be held in the district’s special revenue fund’s unappropriated fund balance for use in future years.

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