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Local schools still chasing benchmarks

Newly released report cards for Oregon schools show most Jackson County districts have significant progress to make on benchmarks considered key to meet on the way to graduation.

Far fewer than 50 percent of third-graders testing in reading and eighth-graders testing in math are meeting state proficiency standards in Jackson County school districts, with the exceptions of three districts.

The most recent report cards show that Ashland has the highest third-grade reading proficiency at 59 percent, followed by Rogue River at 57 percent and Medford at 50 percent.

All other Jackson County school districts fell somewhere between 40 percent and the lowest, Prospect, where only 26 percent of third-graders tested proficient in English language arts.

Kelly Raymond, superintendent of Ashland School District, said that both the eighth- and third-grade metrics are considered useful benchmarks to assess whether a student is prepared to handle the math or reading still ahead of them on the way to graduation.

“We find if kids aren’t reading at grade level at third grade, it gets significantly harder to catch up” she said. “And they’ve shown that sometimes that can affect that student graduating on time.”

Despite the importance, the Oregon average for third-grade reading proficiency is 48 percent, meaning a majority of third-graders in the state were not reading at proficiency in 2017-2018.

Proficiency rates are consistently lower in eighth-grade math, in which the state average drops to 41 percent.

There, only Ashland and Medford exceed the state rate, with 65 and 48 percent proficiency rates.

“We’re pleased with our numbers,” said Natalie Hurd, spokeswoman for the Medford School District. “We continue to see student growth in all categories.”

Prospect had 19 percent proficiency in eighth-grade math; Rogue River, 12 percent.

To see reports by individual school or district, follow this link. The district’s overall information is included in the list of the district’s schools.

The report card, which the Oregon Department of Education changed between last year and this, measures more than just proficiency rates. Most Jackson County school districts landed in the somewhere in the “average” ranking for student progress in state assessments in math and English language arts.

Medford and Ashland were ranked in the “high” range.

Central Point is one of the local districts ranked “average.” But Samantha Steele, superintendent of Central Point schools, said that the rating contradicted other national data in reading and math.

“We are concerned about the academic progress rating for our elementary schools,” she said in an email Thursday, suggesting those ratings may be flawed.

Academic growth breaks down into more granular detail in the state’s new accountability reports: by district and by individual school, across different grades testing in each subject, and down further into specific student groups.

Those groups include different racial categories, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students, for a few examples.

The accountability reports give rankings of level 1 through 5 depending on the percentage of students in each cross-section of the categories identified who saw growth in their assessments.

Central Point, for example, ranked mostly level 2 (between 40 and 45 percent median growth) for English language arts improvement in grades K-5. But students with disabilities ranked level 1, with 34 percent median growth over the last three years in the subject.

Some racial categories, including black and Asian students in those grades in the district, comprised too few students in the last three years to receive rankings. That’s true in several other Jackson County school districts.

This is also the first year that report cards have included data on kindergarten through second grade regular attenders. The metric shows what percentage of those students attended 90 percent or more of their enrolled school days in the district.

Oregon’s average is 83 percent regular attenders. Ashland at 86 percent and Central Point at 83 percent were the only two school districts to meet or exceed the state average. Butte Falls saw the lowest number, with 61 percent of those students meeting regular attendance.

Most of these numbers are not surprises to the school districts, which have had access to the data for months beforehand. Raymond said that teachers and principals at each school reviewed their data on third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, and other metrics during the week before school started.

They used that information to help them plan strategies for learning this academic year through school improvement plans.

Those improvement plans will be posted on each school’s website in coming weeks, she said.

“It’ll be very transparent to our community, to see what each school is doing and what the strategies are to increase student achievement,” Raymond said.

The most surprising thing for school districts about Oregon Department of Education’s 2017-2018 report cards may be that they’re already public, since ODE Chief Colt Gill had said his department would wait until after the Nov. 6 election to publicize results.

The decision was widely criticized, however, after the Oregonian/Oregonlive wrote about the delay, and Gill reversed his decision and released the data Wednesday afternoon with a hasty press conference.

Local officials said the timing mostly caught them off guard to prepare for media availability to talk about their results or to go over them with their school boards.

And they say there’s more to their districts than only what report cards can show.

“The state assessments are not our primary purpose—teaching the content standards through authentic educational experiences that prepare students for success in their next level of education and ultimately the workforce is our primary purpose,” Steele said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Mail Tribune file photo