Setback on state exams studied

Eagle Point school strike might have had impact

Flat growth on state assessments for the Eagle Point School District over the past year might be attributed to a testing window that coincided with May's employee strike, administrators said Tuesday.

The district had been increasing its growth on state tests of English and literature, math and science for three years straight until assessment data released last week ended the trend.

"Last year, we saw that growth go down," said Tina Mondale, Eagle Point's director of school improvement.

Mondale said the district had waited until the end of the year to administer the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, which districts can begin anytime after October, with the hope that testing would reflect all the knowledge students learned throughout the year.

"It ended up backfiring. There was a lot of turmoil at the end of the year," she said.

Last May's employee strike occurred during the same window the district had planned to administer some of the assessments, causing students to take multiple tests in the same day during the weeks school was in session after the strike.

"I don't believe it accurately reflected the learning that happened," said Mondale.

Eagle Point's average test scores were lower than the state average and lower than data released for Medford, Ashland, Central Point and Phoenix-Talent districts.

"We were concerned at the end of last year, that this is how it would be reflected," said Mondale.

During the year, internal tests showed growth within Eagle Point, so the district is convinced the poor timing of the state's tests account for the lower-than-expected scores.

School officials across the county are working through the state data to identify trends among each district, while individual schools look to see how students are performing at each grade level and in each subject.

A new system of recognizing growth for each school is a welcome change for schools such as Medford's Howard Elementary, which had scored poorly enough in the past to be placed on the state's version of academic probation.

This year, some Howard students made marked improvements in each subject, increasing the number of students who are proficient in third grade from 47 percent to 60 percent and in fifth grade from 30 percent to 50 percent.

Though math and science scores for the school still hover below state averages, school officials are happy that the improvements will be acknowledged more clearly.

"I wanted to get an overall feel for our district," said Debbie Connolly, supervisor of curriculum and assessment for Medford schools, after taking a first look at the state's district assessments last week. "I'm really pleased with every grade level."

Across the county, district averages for English, math and science tests remained relatively on par with state averages, with Ashland earning significantly higher scores and the small rural districts of Butte Falls and Prospect scoring lower.

Comparing the scores between districts isn't entirely fair because each area has a slightly different demographic, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long.

"We have some pretty high-poverty areas in the community," said Long, who believes because Medford is the largest city in the area, it tends to attract low-income families looking for cheaper housing and accounts for much of the county's homeless population.

Despite a high rate of economically disadvantaged families in their area, students are excelling at Sams Valley Elementary School, a rural school in the Central Point School District.

Many grades at the school fared well on tests in English, math and science, and overall the school improved enough to receive a growth score of 90 out of 100 points.

"Two years ago the district considered closing that school," said Samantha Steele, Central Point's director of education. She praised the new assessment model, which recognized Sams Valley for the growth the school has made over the last year.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students at the school raised their average subject scores from 48 percent to 67 percent and from 63 percent to 71 percent, respectively, according to the state data.

Similar increases were seen among students at Talent Elementary School, which saw noticeably increased scores for third- and fifth-graders.

"It was an incredible bright spot for us," said Teresa Sayre, director of instructional services for the Phoenix-Talent School District. "They did improve a lot."

While Eagle Point officials were unhappy with the drop-off in growth across the district, several schools still made improvements in math scores, according to Mondale.

"We saw some really good growth in math, and we're really happy about it," said Mondale. "It was good to see."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

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