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More than half of local schools make adequate progress

About 60 percent of Jackson County schools made "adequate yearly progress" in academics in the latest school year.

Statewide, that figure was 72 percent among 1,195 schools, up two percentage points from the year before.

Thirty-seven of 63 Jackson County schools met the measurements set by what is often referred to as the No Child Left Behind law, according to figures released Monday by the Oregon Department of Education. In the same report released in 2009, 41 of 63 schools — 65 percent — met progress standards.

Two schools in the county — Medford's Howard Elementary and Central Point Elementary — remain on a "needs improvement" list of schools that have failed two meet standards two years in a row, meaning they must offer students alternatives such as tutoring or transfer.

Central Point met standards in the most recent year, but schools must meet standards two years to get off the improvement list.

A third elementary school, Mountain View in White City, was removed from the list because it has met the standards for two consecutive years.

The federal law sets targets each year for an increasing number of students to reach state academic standards, with the goal of all students meeting math and reading and writing benchmarks by 2014.

Specific subgroups, such as students who are Hispanic, American Indian, black, still learning English or have disabilities, must meet the same benchmarks. Schools also must meet an attendance or graduation requirement to meet overall progress goals.

In Medford, North and South high schools, McLoughlin Middle School and Howard Elementary School received black marks in math and English for various "challenged" sub-populations, most often students who are disabled, in special education or have limited English skills.

The Medford district never has been able to consistently reach benchmarks for disabled and English-deficient populations and always assumes that will be an issue in the report, said Human Resources Director Todd Bloomquist.

In Ashland, only the high school was dinged — this for 10th-graders in special education falling short in math, namely geometry, which they don't take until the following year, said Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

In Central Point, Hanby and Scenic middle schools and Jewett, Patrick and Richardson Elementary Schools had areas of shortfall with sub-populations.

While State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo welcomed the gains, she said in a news release the focus needs to be on the growth of individual students, rather than benchmarks.

"While these preliminary AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) results show slight gains for our middle and high schools, they also reveal that far too many Oregon students are still not receiving the supports they need to succeed in school," Castillo said.

Di Chiro echoed the sentiment, noting that the Bush-era law is up for reauthorization and she's working with elected officials to get rid of the "impossible-to -reach" target for 2014 of 100 percent of all schools and subgroups hitting all target benchmarks.

"We hold it as a goal that every kid progresses every year," said Di Chiro. "The 2014 goal is impossible to reach, and I hope targets become more reasonable. The old law is not a growth model. It doesn't look at the growth each year, but at a standard."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.