Godofredo Vasquez – Philomath Express
What should we make of last week’s release of test scores showing how Oregon students fared on the standardized tests measuring their progress on English, math and science?
We would start with this big caveat: While the test results are interesting (and, frankly, discouraging), it’s a mistake to read too much into them. The test results don’t tell the entire story about our schools, and they never will.
Also remember that the results from high schools and middle schools can be misleading, since many of those students choose to skip the tests.
But with that said, there’s no way around this conclusion: The results from this year’s tests are mediocre, not just across the state but across the mid-valley. (A chart showing how mid-valley school districts fared is attached to the online version of this editorial.)
And some of the reasons that have been given in the past to explain Oregon’s relatively poor performance on the tests no longer hold much water.
For example, we understand that the so-called Smarter Balanced assessments, used to measure student progress in reading, writing and math, are harder than the tests they replaced, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge of Skills. (The OAKS test is still used to measure progress in science.)
But we’re now in our fourth year of using these tests, so it doesn’t do much good to talk about how hard they are. And students have been opting out of taking these tests since the first year, so that argument is losing traction.
So here’s the bottom line: We’re not seeing the kind of consistent progress that other states are noting. (For example, scores in Washington state in English rose in every grade this year, according to a report in The Oregonian.)
In Oregon this year, by contrast, math scores in the Smarter Balanced test for the 2017-18 school year hit a four-year low, with just 41 percent of students demonstrating mastery of the subject. The number of students meeting science benchmarks fell by more than a percentage point, to 60 percent. The rate of students meeting English standards did rise by just over a percentage point to about 55 percent.
In the mid-valley, Corvallis, Philomath and Scio school districts outperformed the state average in every subject. But scores declined or were flat in most mid-valley schools, with only the Lebanon Community School District showing improved scores in all three subjects. The rates of students meeting standards dropped in every subject in the Albany, Corvallis, Monroe and Alsea school districts — in fact, with the exception of Lebanon, every mid-valley district lost ground in at least one of the areas tested.
The test results can be useful in terms of identifying schools that are doing well on the tests and seeing if there are some best practices at those districts that other schools could use: Scio, for example, has consistently beaten the state average for science. What is that small district doing that other districts could emulate?
Colt Gill, the state’s school chief, didn’t hold out much hope for any substantial improvement in the test results until legislators find the money to decrease class sizes and add days to Oregon’s school year. Gov. Kate Brown and her Republican opponent for re-election, Knute Buehler, have pledged to address those issues.
Both candidates need to offer specific proposals: Brown has said she won’t discuss budget details until after the election, assuming she’s re-elected. Buehler has proposed reforms in Oregon’s public pension system that could offer some relief to school districts struggling with that financial albatross. (To be fair, Brown has implemented some of her pension system suggestions, but those have been relatively small steps.)
It’s not enough for our state leaders to continue to lament mediocre performances on these tests. It’s time to find some solutions that will increase the odds for our schools — and our students. (mm)