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Medford, Ashland districts top state averages in tests

For the first time in three years under a new educational testing regime, the Medford School District has scored above the state average in all three areas tested — math, English language arts and science.

While scores statewide in the spring assessments dipped slightly, Ashland and Medford school districts both exceeded state averages, according to the Oregon Department of Education Smarter Balanced report released Thursday. Ashland has previously exceeded the state in all three areas.

The Smarter Balanced assessments, which replaced the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in 2014, are offered online every spring to third- through eighth-grade and 11th-grade students. Students who score level 3 or 4 on the assessments are considered to  "meet or exceed" standards and to be on track for graduation. The science assessment is only offered to students in the fifth, eighth and 11th grades and is still using the OAKS test.

The assessments this year showed fewer students statewide proficient in all three subjects: a 0.7 percentage point decrease in math, 1.6 percentage point drop in English language arts and 1.1 percentage point decline in science.

That translates to 40.8 percent of students reaching level 3 or 4 in math, 53.6 percent in ELA and 61.4 percent in science.

Ashland and Medford school districts were the only two in Southern Oregon that exceeded the state averages in all three subjects in the past school year, while other districts fell below the averages in at least two subjects, according to the report. Phoenix-Talent School District had the biggest drop in the percentage of students scoring level 3 or higher.

Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate said this is the first year Medford pulled ahead of the state in all areas. The district trailed the state in ELA and math in 2014-2015 and in math in 2015-2016.

"I'm happy about the report — I believe it's because we focus on the common core and establish more consistency in teaching material across the district," Shumate said. "But there's still a lot to do." 

Medford scored a 1.8 percentage point increase in math but saw a 1 percentage point drop in ELA and 2.5 percentage point decline in science. The district still scored above state averages in all areas, hitting 41.5 percent in math, 55.5 percent in ELA and 68.8 percent in science.

School Board member Jim Horner said that after reviewing the report, he was "not perfectly happy but still happy about it."

Ashland continued its streak of far exceeding state averages in all assessments. Its students gained 1.5 percentage points in math and 5.3 points in science but lost 0.9 points in ELA compared to last year. That translates to 63.9 percent of students scoring at level 3 or higher in math, 80.4 percent in science and 73.6 percent in ELA.

Ashland Superintendent Kelly Raymond and Director of Student Services Sam Bogdanove didn't return phone calls asking for comment.

Phoenix-Talent saw big drops in math and ELA, down 6.4 and 6.9 percentage points, respectively. The district also dropped 2.9 percentage points in science. That translates to 22.3 percent of the district's students scoring level 3 or higher in math, 40.1 percent in ELA and 48.6 percent in science.

Superintendent Brent Barry said the district "is well aware" of the holes in its system and is actively fixing it.

"Keep in mind this is just a snapshot; this is one assessment of our students," Barry said. "But we are looking to focus on the middle school levels, especially in mathematics."

Barry said the district will hire a math specialist, taking advantages of funding from Measure 98, to improve math skills for eighth-graders. The district also will implement more programs to support and intervene with students who struggle with math.

"We are also looking to learn more about the assessments itself to help better prepare our students," Barry said.  

In Medford, schools had fewer third-, fifth-, seventh- and 11th-graders scoring level 3 or 4 in ELA, with a 6.4 percentage point decrease in the number of proficient fifth-graders. Other grades saw increases of between 0.6 and 2.2 percentage points.

While Medford sixth-graders showed a 7.5 percentage point increase in math, fifth-graders had a 4.8 percentage point drop. Other grades saw an increase of between 2 and 4.8 percentage points, with the exception of 11th-graders' 0.5 percentage point decrease.

Shumate said the district looks at many aspects to determine student success, and Smarter Balanced is only one of them.

"We understand that some kids don't do well on paper but they're very smart and go on to become successful and productive," Shumate said. "We are very much in the business of educating the whole child — we understand the value of a lot of things in addition to this Smarter Balanced assessment."

Smarter Balanced in ELA for Districts by Trân Nguyễn on Scribd

Smarter Balanced in Math for Districts by Trân Nguyễn on Scribd

Smarter Balanced in ELA by School 2 by Trân Nguyễn on Scribd

Smarter Balanced in Math by School 2 by Trân Nguyễn on Scribd

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nguyenntrann.