Considering the alternative

Central Medford High School may not be serving students well judging by scores

Medford school officials say they'll take a close look at test scores from the district's alternative high school to better understand why students at Central Medford High School ranked at the bottom of all Southern Oregon students. That's certainly appropriate. It would also be appropriate to ask whether the alternative high school model is worth continuing or should be scrapped.

The Oregon Department of Education released assessment data last week as part of its new method of evaluating schools under the state's No Child Left Behind waiver. Rather than simply reporting scores on standardized tests, as the old system did, the new evaluation also measures whether students are improving relative to students with the same scores across the state.

Under No Child Left Behind, student scores at a particular graduate level were compared with the scores of the same grade level the year before — a different set of students. That frustrated educators, who said it didn't reflect improvement by the same group of students from year to year. Unfortunately for Medford's alternative high school, the new measurement did not show that improvement.

Central Medford, operated by the Medford district in part of the old South Medford High School building, received a score of 30 out of 100 for achievement. Only the Eagle Point School District's Upper Rogue Center for Educational Opportunities scored lower, with a 20.

Students in alternative high schools are not expected to score as high as their peers in regular high schools. For a variety of reasons, alternative students have difficulty succeeding in a traditional school environment.

But if the "growth score" — the change in achievement relative to similar students since the previous year — were higher, that would indicate the students were showing improvement. That wasn't the case at Central Medford, which earned a score of 30 for achievement and 30 for growth. Overall, the school was rated a 1 out of a possible 5 — dead last among Jackson County schools.

Supporters of alternative high schools argue they serve a population of students who don't function well in a traditional school environment. Alternative schools can keep those students in school, which is preferable to seeing them drop out even if their scores are lower.

But Central Medford has a graduation rate of just 9.5 percent. South Medford's rate, in comparison, is 83.2 percent. And other districts in the county — Ashland and Central Point — saw acceptable and even superior high school scores without providing alternative schools.

Medford officials — and Eagle Point educators, for that matter — should take a hard look at Central, and ask whether the alternative high school is really meeting the needs of struggling students.

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