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  • Most local schools improve in latest state tests

  • State assessment scores released Thursday paint differing pictures of student performance across Jackson County's largest school districts, but most are showing improvements over last year's data.
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      To see results from individual districts and schools locally and across the state, see the link with this story at www.mailtribune.com.
  • State assessment scores released Thursday paint differing pictures of student performance across Jackson County's largest school districts, but most are showing improvements over last year's data.
    Students in Ashland's public schools outperformed the state average in every grade level tested and every subject — math, science, reading and writing — by no less than 10 percent, while Eagle Point's students didn't match state averages in any area, but saw improvement over last year.
    Annually, the Oregon Department of Education releases student test data from the previous academic year's results of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, or OAKS.
    While Eagle Point fell below the state averages, a school official there sounded an optimistic note.
    "We look at whether students are growing and we were really excited to see in most grades and in most subjects we did increase fairly significantly over the year before, and the state, for the most part, decreased in most categories," said Tina Mondale, Eagle Point's director of school improvement.
    "We slipped back a little bit last year, but this year we feel like we got our momentum back," Mondale said.
    Before last year, the district had been increasing its growth on state tests of reading, math and science for three years straight, data shows.
    Eagle Point's third-, fourth- and fifth-grade math scores showed "promising," increases over last year's scores, Mondale said, improving from passing rates of 39, 47.4 and 42.7 percent in 2012, respectively, to 44.8, 52.6 and 55.1 percent, according to state data.
    "We're celebrating that growth. We ask every year; are we closing the gap? Are our students getting better? And they definitely are," she said.
    With 65.4 percent of Eagle Point's fifth-grade students passing the reading portion of the OAKS, that cohort came closer than any of the district's other grades to matching statewide student averages in a subject. The state average for fifth-grade in reading was 66.8 percent, according to state data.
    Compared with previous years, school districts across Oregon had fewer opportunities last year to administer the reading and math portions of the OAKS to students, because of changes in state testing policy. Most districts also have been caught up in a whirlwind of changes preparing for the statewide switch to new Common Core State Standards next academic year.
    Before this year's two-time limit to reduce overtesting, students could take the math and reading portions of the OAKS up to three times.
    Last year, public school teachers across Oregon also enjoyed a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind incentives, which led to many districts shifting their emphasis away from end-of the-year tests, said Oregon's Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton.
    "We are now testing kids less and focusing instead on student learning and growth," Saxton said, in a press release, Thursday. "The shift in testing practice moves our state toward a clearer, more accurate picture of student knowledge and skills, but this is just the beginning. With the adoption of the Common Core ... we will truly start to see how prepared our students are for their futures."
    Medford School District's test scores reflect those changes and shifts in focus, said Superintendent Phil Long.
    "We're in this weird situation ... many of us have been shifting our instructional programs as the state is moving toward Common Core," Long said. "What districts are dealing with is not only retooling our curriculum ... but realigning teacher evaluation and administrator evaluation as required by state law.
    "It's been real work for our district, but those types of system changes should result in greater responsibility and higher accountability."
    Medford's test results were about on par with its last-year results, showing slight gains in reading and science, a subject in which its students bettered the state average, and declines in math and reading.
    Medford's fifth-, eighth-, and 11th-graders posted passing rates of 70.2, 71.9 and 67.6 percent in science, with an overall passing average of 70 percent. That state average for science scores was 65.1 percent passing.
    "I see some highs and lows for us," Long said. "In math, the district declined and state improved. We will certainly be looking at that.
    This is a snapshot, one way of looking at student performance, and we need to pay attention."
    Medford's fifth- and sixth-graders improved on last year's math scores, but the remaining grades tested — third, fourth, seventh, eighth and 11th — posted declining math results.
    In Central Point, students tested in math, science and reading were overall about 1 percentage point above or below the state average — on a par with last year. In writing, where only juniors in high school are tested, Central Point had a passing rate of 55.3 percent against a state average of 59.5 percent.
    "We're happy to see that there is some improvement, still, it can always be better so that's what were shooting for," said Todd Bennett, director of education for the Central Point district. "We are shifting our focus because the testing is changing. Making that transition is a challenge for this district."
    Ashland's test scores are similar to its results from last year. Most declines in subjects were met with improvements at other grade levels in the same subject.
    In writing this year, Ashland had a 79.3 percent passing rate compared to its 83.2 percent passing rate last year.
    Also, more than 95 percent of Ashland's 11th-graders passed the reading portion of the OAKS this year, an improvement over its 94.1 percent passing rate for 11th-graders, last year.
    Samuel Bogdanove, Ashland's director of student services did not return a message seeking comment on the results.
    Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.
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