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State report cards: Attendance up, achievement less secure

Jackson County’s largest school districts saw more of their students show up for more school days between the most recent two school years, new report card data shows.

Eagle Point School District had the highest percentage of “regular attenders” — the Oregon Department of Education’s term for students attending at least 90% of the time — in kindergarten through second grade among Jackson County school districts.

Its rate of 90% tops the state rate, at 83%, by seven percentage points.

Phil Ortega, who heads the district’s attendance efforts, said he is proud of the results.

“I think that we’re doing good work,” he said. “We really believe good attendance habits give kids the opportunity to learn more content in their classes and thus earn more credit.”

Districts have increasingly invested in new approaches to get kids to class, aiming especially to establish regular attendance habits from the time students enter the K-12 system. Of the 55 schools in Jackson County’s five biggest school districts, 33 increased their “regularly attender” population, data shows.

That’s just one portion of the results outlined in the latest report card, which details metrics from graduation rates to individual student growth in elementary and middle school. They’re a temperature check on whether schools and districts are meeting state standards at key points in students’ educations, in addition to foreshadowing graduation rates and other future achievements.

While most local districts can applaud their gains in attendance this year, key academic metrics reveal significant room for improvement, in some cases to catch up to the state’s already-low rates in math and English language arts proficiency.

Oregon’s rate of proficiency in third-grade reading and writing was 47% in 2018-2019, down a percentage point from 2017-2018. In Jackson County, only Ashland (70%) and Butte Falls (55%) managed to surpass the state this past year.

Most districts saw an increase in the metric, which is considered a strong indicator of students’ long-term academic achievement. But others, including Medford, saw a slip in proficiency.

Just 44% of Medford third-graders reached state standards this past year, according to the report card data.

“We’re looking at that,” said Jeanne Grazioli, directory of elementary student achievement, about the six-percentage-point dip.

But, she said, “our prediction was close to where our internal assessment showed.”

Grazioli said that the district uses another test, called i-Ready, to track the areas where students are struggling and to target support. Unlike the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which the state requires districts administer once every year, i-Ready is given to students three times per year.

In eighth-grade math, all five of the county’s largest districts slid, with Phoenix-Talent School District losing the most ground.

Its proficiency rate dropped by 13 percentage points last year, reaching 18% proficiency in eighth-grade math.

Brent Barry, superintendent, said that even though the district anticipated a dip in the immediate aftermath of adopting a new math curriculum, the numbers were “a little bit of a surprise.”

The new curriculum will provide ways to track the areas where students need more help, Barry said, similarly to what Grazioli described about i-Ready assessments.

“There’s a lot more to it than just looking at a grade-level performance on that day,” Barry said. “Even though we do need to respond to it, we’ve got the whole picture outlook.”

Administrators point to a report card metric that gives a broader view of how well districts and schools are serving students as they progress through the years: individual student growth.

The report cards, which the state releases to the public through “At-A-Glance” profiles, focus on student growth from third through eighth grade.

Ashland, Phoenix-Talent, Eagle Point and Prospect were rated “high,” with Medford, Central Point and Rogue River earning “average” scores from the state. Butte Falls fell into the “low” category.

School communities are expected to use the data to adjust methods and continue the complex work of improving student outcomes.

“We’ll learn from this and we’ll move forward,” Barry said.

Districts also parse through the data to examine how individual student groups are faring, to get a sense for how effective their more targeted interventions are.

Hiding in those more granular data points are more particular accomplishments, including for students from historically underserved groups.

Michelle Cummings, Medford’s chief academic officer, pointed to attendance, noting that the rate of regular attenders among Medford migrant students in kindergarten through second grade was higher than that of the total population in the most recent report.

“We’re very excited to see some of our most vulnerable students in the K-2 attendance data are performing very well,” she said.

State law requires schools to send the “At-A-Glance” profiles to parents by Jan. 15. Officials said that communication about the report cards would tie into districts’ efforts to plan for new funding from the Student Success Act, passed late this spring.

“We hope that these [At-A-Glance profiles] can serve as a tool for districts as they work with their parents and communities to develop goals for the Student Success Act,” said Jon Wiens, ODE’s director of accountability.

To find your school’s latest profile, follow this link.

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