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Making the grade

and click on "Making the Grade." / Bob Pennell — — — Local students show big improvement in statewide assessment tests

School-by-school results, sample tests

While many Jackson County schools struggle to make progress under federal standards, state test results show more students here ' and around the state ' are mastering the basics.

Each year students in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades take multiple-choice tests to see whether they meet reading and math benchmarks set by the state. Those scores are used to determine federal progress. The same grade levels also take a multiple-choice science test.

Students in fourth, seventh and 10th grades took essay tests this year to measure their writing ability, a change from previous years when fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders were tested.

— Statewide, the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in all of those subjects at each grade level during 2004-05 improved over the previous year's results, the state Department of Education reported.

This is significant improvement, and it is a great way to begin the new school year, State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo said in a prepared statement. I am thrilled with the results, and I am hopeful that we can sustain these increases in the coming years.

Districtwide results in Central Point showed every grade level making improvements in the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in reading and math. The percentage of eighth-grade students meeting the reading benchmark, for example, jumped to 66.1 percent from 45.9 percent.

We are seeing a nice growth trend, Superintendent Randy Gravon said.

He noted, however, that some individual schools saw slight declines. The number of fifth-graders meeting reading goals at Patrick Elementary School slipped to 87.2 percent from 88.1 percent a year ago, but the slip was offset by a large gain among fifth-graders at Jewett Elementary, to 82.6 percent from 60.3 percent.

Gravon said that the slight decreases seen at several elementary schools likely indicate differences in groups of children rather than problems with the school's curriculum or teaching. The state assessments measure one year's third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades against the previous year's group instead of tracking one set of students' performance over time.

In Medford, curriculum director Todd Bloomquist was generally pleased with results after his initial number-crunching.

Although the district showed slight decreases in overall third-grade math and reading results, Bloomquist attributed those in part to a change in how the state reports results to protect the confidentiality of students. All schools where more than 95 percent of students meet a benchmark now get a 95 percent mark, because an exact percentage could enable people to single out specific students who missed. Schools used to report scores as high as 100 percent.

We do take a bit of a hit for those blurry numbers, Bloomquist said.

Nothing is crazy high, but things are generally going up or holding steady, he said.

Bloomquist said he would like to see writing scores increase, but the state's shift to testing fourth and seventh grades instead of fifth and eighth was a hard adjustment, especially for the youngest students.

They can do it, he said, but we have to get them ready for a different level.

In math, a subject high schools have struggled in, results were up at North, South and Medford Opportunity high schools. Reading results improved at Medford Opportunity, the district's alternative school, although they slipped at the other two high schools.

In the Phoenix-Talent School District, alternative charter school Armadillo Technical Academy made strong gains in math, from fewer than 5 percent of kids meeting 10th-grade standards in 2003-04 to 25 percent hitting the mark this time around. Phoenix High School also saw improvements in math and reading.

Curriculum director Tim Mobley credits math gains at the fifth-, eighth- and 10th-grade levels to a math specialist hired last year who helped train teachers and assess the math curriculum.

Things are generally moving in the right direction, he said.

Rogue River Superintendent Charles Hellman was pleased with results in his district. He noted that of 20 different tests given at various grade levels and schools in all subjects, 13 of them showed improvement over the previous year and 15 of them beat state averages.

That's pretty good, he said.

Butte Falls, the high school that faces sanctions for faltering under federal requirements, posted big improvements on the state tests. At the 10th-grade level, 40 percent of students met math standards, up from just 15.8 percent the year before, and 75 percent met reading standards, up from 33.3 percent. All grade levels at Butte Falls schools improved reading results.

In Prospect, the other Jackson County district facing federal sanctions, math results improved among all grade levels. Reading results improved among third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students, but dipped slightly in high school.

The Eagle Point School District reported districtwide improvements in math and reading at each grade level, although individual schools had mixed results.

The Ashland School District saw math results improve in third, fifth and eighth grades, but slip in high school. Reading results climbed in elementary grades, but slipped in secondary schools.

Making the grade"aburke@mailtribune.com.

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