Oregon saw across-the-board dips in scores on standardized tests designed to measure whether students are meeting English and Math standards, Oregon Department of Education data released this week.
The results, from Smarter Balanced Assessment testing done in the 2018-19 school year, show the percent of Oregon students meeting English standards dropped to just over 53%. The percentage of students meeting math standards dropped below 40%.
For Linn and Benton county schools, the results didn’t look much better, with declines in the rates of students meeting standards in all but the area’s smaller districts. In smaller districts, scores tend to be fairly volatile from year-to-year because with so few students tested, the performance of just a handful of students can swing the scores significantly.
In mid-valley school districts with more than 1,000 students, only Philomath saw improvements over last year in either subject, with its rate of students meeting English standards increasing by less than half a percentage point to nearly 59 Percent.
Philomath and Corvallis school districts were also the only two districts in the counties to outperform the state average in both subject areas tested.
Here’s more detail about how area districts fared in the tests:
Greater Albany Public Schools
Greater Albany Public Schools did not beat state averages in math and English but test results around the district varied with some schools far outpacing its peers and others falling short.
At the district level, GAPS saw 51.3% of the students who took the English Language Arts test earn a score deemed proficient. In math, the number was 36.7%. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“The outcome you see in any place is how the system was built. It’s an indicator of how the system is working,” said GAPS Assistant Superintendent Lisa Harlan.
At West Albany High School, for example, 84.8% of students tested as proficient in English Language Arts. At South Albany High School, it was 64.7% — both schools outscoring the state average of 53.4%.
At face value, the local numbers show West outperforming South but in looking at the factors that contribute to test scores, the picture shifts.
“Right now, currently, our only high school program for English language learners is housed at South, not at West,” Harlan said. “Any ELL learner would attend South.”
When a student enters the school system in kindergarten as an ELL student, typically they exit that program by middle school. So, for a high school student to still identify as an ELL student, they are either new to the district or have struggled through the program previously.
The important number to look at for those students, Harlan said, is the on-track English Language Proficiency score.
“On-track English Language Proficiency of the students, a historically underserved population, (shows) there was an increase in every single grade band but a marked increase in high school,” she said, noting scores had jumped from the teens into the 30s.
That means students are on track to achieve their proficiency at a higher rate — something GAPS attributes to the system of support at South with a dual language program and counselors who can relate to issues surrounding those students’ experiences.
Harlan said district officials focus on systems when reviewing test scores. This year’s scores showed Calapooia Middle School doing poorly on both math and English (24.1% proficient in math and 37.7% in English) but Harlan said the district approaches low scores from an overall standpoint and then looks at the systems surrounding the students.
South Shore Elementary, Sunrise Elementary, Tangent Elementary and Waverly Elementary all scored below 40% proficiency in English. Those same schools, with the exception of Waverly — which scored 40% — all saw math scores in the 20s.
“It’s school by school but really how does a system work and support the needs of each school?” Harlan said.
At Calapooia, an instructional leadership team made up of teachers will look at how the school could improve throughout the year and a reading intervention program for students who struggle will also be instituted in the sixth grade.
“It’s systems,” Harlan said. “You look at each school and there’s about five or six systems that need to be really healthy. But when you have three elementary schools that are high-achieving that all feed into the same middle school, it’s more likely that middle school will be high-achieving.”
Harlan said the district was focusing on how to even the playing field but saw bright spots in the numbers. The district’s graduation rate continues to creep up, as does its five-year completer rate.
One of the issues the district hopes to tackle, which will ultimately affect test scores, is chronic absenteeism. For GAPS, the highest rates of absenteeism are in kindergarten and 12th grade.
“It’s about getting kiddos to school and on the other end, keeping them engaged,” Harlan said.
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School officials from other mid-valley school districts, including Lebanon, Scio, Sweet Home, Harrisburg and Santiam Canyon, had not responded to requests for comment about their results by Friday's deadline.
Corvallis School District
The Corvallis School District continued to outperform state averages this year, as it has all five years the state has used the Smarter Balanced Assessment to test English and math proficiency. The district also posted the highest rates of students meeting standards in both subjects in Linn and Benton counties.
Nearly 62% of Corvallis students met English standards in the 2018-19 school year, although the rate of students meeting the standard was a little higher the previous year, at 63%. In math, more than 49% of Corvallis students met standards for their grades, although again this was a decline for the district, which saw more than 52% of its students meet math standards last year.
Corvallis Superintendent Ryan Noss said he thinks two major factors have contributed to the district’s consistent performance above state averages. The first is that the district has developed professional learning communities for its staff that meet after school on early release days to develop curriculum and work on plans for helping meet individual student’s needs. The second is the programming the district is able to offer with the support of its voter-approved local option levy.
“The community really supports our work and that makes a difference,” he said.
Noss said the levy is used to offer more counseling services, reduce class sizes and fund elementary-level music and physical education programming.
For example, he said, counseling services help kids deal with social and emotional issues, which makes it easier for them to focus on learning. Music and physical education programs help kids stay active and engaged in school, he added.
“Providing kids with greater opportunities and access makes a difference,” he said.
Noss added that in order to help more kids meet standards in future years the district has adopted new curriculum, such as a new elementary reading curriculum that was adopted last year and a new dual-immersion specific reading curriculum adopted at the district’s dual immersion elementary schools this year.
He added that the district has also made a substantial investment in expanding mental health services for students this year and that investment should have an impact on academic performance measures like Smarter Balanced.
Philomath School District
Like Corvallis, Philomath School District continued to beat the state average in the 2018-19 school year.
Nearly 59% of students met English standards, up just slightly from the previous year. In math, around 42% of Philomath students met standards, down from 45% the previous year.
Monroe School District
Monroe School District had around 180 students test in both subjects in the 2018-19 school year.
Of those, 44% met English standards, up about 5 percentage points over the previous year. Around 35% of Monroe students met math standards, up more than 16 percentage points from the previous year.
Alsea School District
Alsea School District, the area’s smallest school district, had fewer than 100 students take standardized tests in the 2018-19 school year. The district’s participation rate in the tests was around 45%.
The district saw 25% of its students tested meet English standards, up about 4 percentage points over last year. And 19% of its students tested met math standards, up about 5 percent versus last year.
Alsea Superintendent Marc Thielman said the publishing of these results is an “annual frustration” for the district because the results don’t really represent what’s happening in the district. He said because the school is so small and so many students opt out of the tests the numbers aren't particularly illuminating.
Thielman added that about a third of the district’s students transfer in from outside the district and they often do so because they struggled at other schools. He said the district’s internal assessment model, the MAP Assessment, shows students are making strong progress, but because so many of them are lagging academically they may still not be at grade level if they do take the state tests. He said if the state reports used the data from the MAP Assessment, Alsea would qualify as a high-performing school.
“We have tremendous results,” he said.