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Statewide assessment sees decline in scores

The Oregon Department of Education released statewide test results for the 2012-13 school year on Thursday, and local districts seem to be falling below the state average in mathematics, reading, science and writing.

The 2013-14 school year will be the last that uses the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test before switching to testing that is more in line with the Common Core State Standards, an initiative adopted by 45 states through which a student’s academic progress and critical thinking can be better evaluated, according to local administrators.

“This doesn’t test the Common Core State Standards, so there’s a real disconnect there,” said North Marion School District Superintendent Boyd Keyser. “Next year will be a whole new test so we’re not overly fixated on these numbers.”

According to results released by ODE, the percent of students meeting standards both statewide and locally declined except in high school reading and math.

Scores for grades 3-5 in the Woodburn School District declined by just a few points in math and reading, but the number of students who met or exceeded standards was half that of the state average.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised because we’ve had to make a lot of cuts,” said Superintendent Chuck Ransom. “I’m encouraged overall, though, because the growth trend is solid. We’re successful with our kids, looking ahead to graduation.”

Desiree Kiesel, the NMSD secondary vice principal of curriculum and testing coordinator, said that because students are learning off of CCSS, the test results don’t necessarily reflect student learning.

“We’re not happy with the test scores,” she clarified. “But we want the community to know we’re working hard to have those scores reflect what students are actually learning.”

The assessment results show 54.7 percent of North Marion High School juniors in 2011-12 met or exceeded requirements in math, but that percentage jumped to 64.4 percent in 2012-13. Reading scores for the same group are even more remarkable, jumping from 60 to 85.7 percent in one year.

“There is a lot more student ownership,” Kiesel said. “They’re learning that what they have to achieve goes beyond doing it just for a teacher or just for a grade. It’s learning that real-life application so they’re prepared for college and a career.”

That ownership at the high school level is bleeding into parent-teacher conferences, which are now led by the students themselves, she added.

Woodburn’s juniors didn’t see quite the same amount of improvement, but the number of students meeting or exceeding standards improved by 4 percent in math and remained about the same in reading in science.

“The surge once you get to high school is mostly because there is a lot of support there,” Ransom said. “It’s the end of the road and we have to make sure those students graduate. That’s part of our strategic plan: We promise to help those kids succeed.”

However, the writing scores, which are only given to 11th-graders, dipped significantly, from 54.3 percent last year to 37.3 percent this year. North Marion juniors’ writing scores declined 10 percent as well. Statewide, percentages dipped 7 percent.

While North Marion High School is seeing big improvements in math and reading, other North Marion students dropped or remained stagnant in their scores, with eighth-graders taking a dive from 71.6 percent meeting and exceeding in math in 2011-12 to only 49.3 percent last year.

“That year (2011-12) was an anomaly; the 49.3 percent is more in line with what has historically been the percentage,” Keyser pointed out, adding that 45.3 percent of the same group of students met or exceeded the benchmark as seventh-graders.

“So they actually improved,” he added.

While administrators are positive about things happening in the classrooms, they admitted there are things that need to be worked on.

“We’re working on a math audit K-12 to see how we teach, what strategies are we using and how can we align across the curriculum,” Kiesel said, adding that technological strategies will also be explored.

“The single most important thing we can do is raise teacher performance,” added Julie Jackson, principal of North Marion Intermediate School. “We’re working on a new teacher performance system that’s a supportive role.”

In Woodburn, Ransom said there will be an increased focus on pre-kindergarten through second grade.

“We’ll never see a surge (in improved scores) unless we make sure kindergartners are ready for school before they walk in,” he said. “A significant number of kids are below grade level when they come into kindergarten, so we need to address that community need. If we don’t help them there, then we’re just playing catch up all the way up to high school.”

The role of the teacher has gotten tougher as the district enrollment continues to go up in both districts and staffing has decreased over the past few years.

“The reality is that you can’t drop teachers and instructional assistants and expect the same results,” Keyser said. “We are faced with the highest expectations ever and the lowest support ever.”

Around 20 percent of students will participate in a field test of the new Smarter Balanced assessment this spring, with full implementation of the test scheduled for the spring of 2015.

State Report Cards, which will highlight moves toward CCSS, are set to be released Oct. 10.



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