The scores earned by some of Oregon's youngest students on the state's standardized math tests dropped in the 2006-2007 school year, a trend mirrored in Jackson County.

PORTLAND — The scores earned by some of Oregon's youngest students on the state's standardized math tests dropped in the 2006-2007 school year, a trend mirrored in Jackson County.

Seventy percent of third-graders, 72 percent of fourth-graders, and 68 percent of fifth-graders got passing grades on the state math test, down six points, three points and four points, respectively, the Oregon Department of Education said today.

Usually, elementary school students are the bright spot when state testing results are released, since scores tend to dip as students age. But this year, it was older students who posted modest improvements, with seventh-, eighth- and 10th-graders all either holding steady or making small gains on math and reading tests.

Jackson County students followed the state trends with elementary pupils at local districts faltering in math while middle and high school students held fairly steady. Local reading and writing scores were mixed, with Rogue River and Central Point posting improvements at many grade levels.

Officials credited the statewide slip in elementary math mastery in part to an adjustment of the standards, the first such change since the testing system was put into place in 1996.

The tweak, which made it more difficult for elementary students to score a passing grade, came after concerns that earlier incarnations of the elementary school standardized tests were too simple, lulling parents, students and teachers into a false sense of security.

At the same time that educators made it more difficult to pass the elementary school tests, they made it slightly easier to pass the middle and high school versions. That decision came after studies showing that middle school Oregon students stacked up well when compared to their peers nationally, better than their in-state testing results suggested.

State education officials have said the dip in student performance could also be due, at least in part, to the abrupt, midyear switch from online tests to old-fashioned pencil and paper testing, after a dispute between the state and its online testing provider. Online testing is back in place for the current school year.

The state standardized tests are the academic basis for the rankings issued by the state government under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that says every child should be reading or doing math at grade level by 2014.

— Wire and staff reports