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Striving to make the grade

Exactly half of the public schools in Jackson County were described as “above average” when compared to like schools around the state, according to school report cards released by the Oregon Department of Education today.

That’s about eight more schools than last year.

Of the 60 schools in Jackson County, four — Bellview and Walker elementary schools in Ashland, Jacksonville Elementary School in the Medford School District and Pinehurst Elementary School in the Greensprings — earned the highest grade, Level 5, placing them in the top 10 percent of schools statewide.

Bellview and John Muir, also in Ashland, were further distinguished as “model schools” in the top 5 percent of the state’s high-poverty schools.

“Model schools are like your bright, shiny stars, the schools people can learn from,” said ODE spokeswoman Crystal Greene.

Three of the county’s lowest performing schools during the last school year were Upper Rogue Center for Educational Opportunities in the Eagle Point School District, Central Medford High School in Medford and Armadillo Technical Institute in Phoenix. All three schools, which serve at-risk students, received a Level 1 grade, placing them in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.

At the elementary and middle school levels, school grades are determined by academic growth among all students, growth among subgroups of students and academic achievement. The high schools are graded on those factors as well as graduation and subgroup graduation, Greene explained.

“If a school is not doing well at graduating special education students, ESL (English as a Second Language) students and students of color, then that will bring their rating down,” said Greene.

In Medford, Jacksonville and Wilson elementary schools and North Medford High School climbed a grade, while Madrone Trail Public Charter School and Roosevelt Elementary School dropped a grade since last year.

Julie Evans, Medford’s director of elementary education, was pleased that all of the district’s elementary schools scored Level 3 or higher, which she feels is a testament to the schools’ Professional Learning Communities, in which teachers collaborate as teams.

While about 56 percent of students at Washington to 86 percent at Jacksonville met or exceeded state standards in reading, only 40 percent (Kennedy) to 76 percent (Lone Pine) met or exceeded the state’s math standards.

Evans said about 100 teachers in the district are currently participating in Math Studio, which involves conferences, training sessions with a consultant and in-class coaching centered on how to teach math and engage students in math conversations. Evans hopes this mathcentric perspective, as well as increased interventions, will help to improve math scores districtwide.

Todd Bloomquist, Medford’s director of secondary education, said Central Medford High School added three positions this year to provide struggling students with additional support in math and reading.

“You’re going to see all these resources and interventions start to kick in in the next couple years,” Bloomquist said.

In addition to increasing the rigor of Central’s curriculum and programs, Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate said he would like to see North and South Medford high schools become more adaptive to kids with a greater variety of needs so Central doesn’t become a warehouse for at-risk students.

“Central is really honing in on its mission to serve high at-risk kids, getting them to graduate and providing rigorous study while they are there,” he said.

Like Medford, the Central Point School District plans to pour more attention and resources into helping students succeed in math.

But, overall, Central Point administrators seemed pleased with the district’s scores. Nine of the district’s 10 schools received a Level 4 grade. Only Jewett Elementary School received a Level 3.

“Eighty percent of our schools are above average, and none of our schools received a below average score,” said Todd Bennett, director of education.

“Jewett moved up from ‘below average’ last year to ‘about average’ this year in comparison with like schools,” he added. “And Sams Valley was a model school last year and only missed that mark by about one point this year.”

The Phoenix-Talent School District showed lower scores, with one school receiving a Level 1 grade, three schools a Level 3, and two schools a Level 4.

“Across the district we continue to struggle with our subgroups and that will continue to be an emphasis for us,” said Superintendent Teresa Sayre.

Many of the schools have started measuring students' progress in reading and math throughout the year and providing individualized supports to students who fall short of benchmarks.

“I really believe we need more funding for summer school and after-school activities because sometimes when we find these gaps, we don’t have the money to fill them in,” Sayre said. “It’s super important that we not only see that we are struggling with the subgroups but also figure out who these students are and how we can apply interventions.”

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

Third-graders Bailey Lindsey and AJ Hamilton-Weaver work as a team on learning metric system measurements Wednesday at Wilson Elementary School, whose grade improved a level this year on state-released report cards. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell