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Mid-Willamette Valley school scores prove pandemic's impact on students

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Following testing in spring, statewide assessment data reveals proficiency drops in every student group in Oregon. 

Following nationwide trends, Oregonian students' achievement levels have declined greatly since the pandemic, the latest results show.

But statewide education expert Dan Farley said he is hopeful the state is headed in the right direction.

“The promise of being able to accelerate learning is present, and we do expect recovery,” he said.

The Oregon Department of Education released its statewide assessment results Thursday, revealing just how strong of an impact the pandemic had on learning. Mid-Valley Media was able to get a preview copy.

Statewide, slightly less than half of all students tested are considered “proficient” at English Language Arts. Around 30% are considered proficient at math and science.

The term “proficient” refers to student achievement level and whether they are on track to be college- and career-ready once they graduate from high school. English and math assessments are given to students in grades 3 through 8 plus 11th grade, and science assessments are given to students in grades 5, 8 and 11.

Local facts and figures

Numbers in the mid-Willamette Valley vary when it comes to academic proficiency. Here are the overall numbers in Corvallis, Albany, Lebanon, Sweet Home and Philomath.

Besting the statewide results slightly, just more than half of all students tested in the Corvallis School District are proficient at English, and just over one-third are proficient at science and math.

In Albany, around 41% of students are proficient at English, and slightly more than over one-quarter are proficient at science and math.

In Lebanon, those numbers are 42% for English proficiency, 30% for math, and and 23% are proficient at science.

In Sweet Home, approximately one-third of students are proficient in English, and just less than one-quarter are proficient at science and math.

Philomath students tend to mimic statewide results, with half of the students proficient in English, 33% in math and 44% in science.

State response

Farley acknowledged that all student groups experienced proficiency drops since the last time students were tested, in spring 2021.

“We certainly understand that there is a strong interest and need to invest in getting resources to these groups of students to support acceleration of learning in the coming years,” Farley said.

That being said, “there is no clear understanding of how long it will be before our students are demonstrating proficiency at the level it was prior to the pandemic," he added.

Students with individualized education plans, or IEPs, and English language learners experienced the most significant drops in proficiency.

Farley said it’s difficult to compare these results to other years, however, because participation rates were inconsistent and far below the national average.

In fact, participation rates at the high school level were so low, this year's results can't be compared to previous figures, he said.

Federal requirements call for at least 95% participation in summative assessments, but in Oregon, districts provide parents the option of opting out of the tests under ORS 329.479, otherwise known as the Student Assessment Bill of Rights. 

Some districts in the state did see improvement, however, and Farley attributed this to those districts giving teachers more time to plan and enhancing teacher practices with more resources and support.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently published a letter emphasizing the need to reduce the high stakes of assessments in decisions such as graduation, promotion requirements and education evaluations.

“Our schools also provide hot meals to nourish our children; warm hugs and high expectations from caring educators; counseling and support; access to support for students who find themselves houseless; hands-on career training and experiences; college credits at little or no cost; and clubs, sports and activities that offer connection and relevance for students,” ODE Director Colt Gill said in a statement.

“There is so much we are not able to measure on a state scale and all of it impacts our children’s success.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the accurate federally required participation rate. 

Joanna Mann (she/her) covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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