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State tests show a mixed report card

State test results released Wednesday show local students coming up short in math and writing.

There were bright spots: The Medford and Central Point school districts surpassed state averages in reading and science. And Ashland continued its successful streak, beating state averages in every subject and grade tested.

“Overall, we did fairly well,” said Brian Shumate, who became Medford schools superintendent this summer. “In reading, we did make progress versus the state, but in math, we’re not performing as well.”

The test results show what percentage of students met or exceeded state benchmarks on the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, administered every spring.

Math and reading are tested in the third through eighth grades and in the 11th grade. Science is tested in the fifth, eighth and 11th grades. But only high school juniors take the writing test.

This year, the OAKS test will be replaced by the Smarter Balance Assessment, which is aligned with Common Core State Standards..

Medford students topped state averages for reading in every grade but eighth, where 35.7 percent of students failed to meet state benchmarks, compared with 33.5 percent of students statewide.

Over the past few years, Medford’s elementary schools have focused on improving reading interventions, especially in the earlier grades, said Julie Evans, Medford’s director of elementary education.

“Now we want to focus on math, and part of our initiative and what we’re hearing from the board is to have more strategic math interventions and beef up the model like we've done with reading,” Evans said.

Medford students in the fourth, fifth, seventh and 11th grades also exceeded last year’s results for every subject in which they were tested.

While test results may reflect student achievement, the district report cards, which the Oregon Department of Education releases in October, are more representative of district growth, Evans said.

Tina Mondale, Eagle Point’s director of school improvement and instruction, was pleased that about 5 percent more third-graders met or exceeded state benchmarks this year than last.

“One of the first things I looked at was third-grade reading because … how many kids you have reading at third grade correlates with how many graduate,” Mondale said.

The district, however, trailed state averages in every grade and subject. Almost 64 percent of its high school juniors failed to meet the state's writing standards.

“This confirms the increased emphasis we need to have in writing,” Mondale said.

The district recently purchased new language arts curriculum — the 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Collections — which she hopes will improve students’ writing.

“This will be the first time we have the same program running from the sixth grade through high school, and it has a strong writing component to it,” she said. “Smarter Balance is really writing-intensive so even at the elementary level we are beefing up our writing curriculum and instruction.”

Mondale praised several of the district's schools for demonstrating “double-digit growth” in several grades. She said the district’s data team will be using the test results to determine where to allocate more resources.

The Phoenix-Talent School District showed improvements in the fourth, fifth, seventh and 11th grades. But eighth-grade math took a serious hit, with only 36.1 percent — down from 53.1 percent in 2012-13 — meeting and exceeding state standards.

Compared with neighboring districts, Central Point boasted the highest percentage (89.9 percent) of high school juniors meeting and exceeding the state’s reading standards.

“Reading has trended upward at the high school level since we opened up the small schools at the high school,” said Todd Bennett, Central Point’s director of education. “I think that a lot of that has to do with the professional development we did at that time.”

Bennett said the district recently purchased new math materials that he hopes will address gaps in that subject and better prepare students for the Smarter Balance Assessment.

“I don’t think we had any surprises, but you always want to do better, obviously,” he said.

 Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.