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School test results run counter to goals

Statewide test results for Medford schools not only show district students scoring below the state average, but the numbers suggest Superintendent Brian Shumate will be hard pressed to meet the goal of an 80 percent graduation rate by 2017 set out for him by the School Board.

Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 took the new Smarter Balanced tests of English and math last spring. The new tests replace the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) used in previous years. The new tests are considered to be more difficult, and state education officials expected the first results to be disappointing.

In fact, the statewide results exceeded predictions by about 10 percentage points. But Medford students did less well overall, although some individual schools significantly outperformed the statewide numbers.

Students scoring a 3 or a 4 on the 1-4 scale were considered on track to graduate and be college-ready.

The most alarming results came in the math assessments of 11th-graders — this year's seniors. Only 25 percent of South Medford juniors scored a 3 or a 4. At North Medford, 31 percent of students did — the same as the statewide average. That means, at least at South, that 75 percent of this year's seniors are not on track to graduate and be ready for college in terms of their math skills.

There are reasons not to panic at these numbers. For one thing, it's the first time any Oregon students have taken this particular assessment. For another, three Medford elementary schools — Hoover, Jacksonville and Lone Pine — exceeded the state average in every category and every grade tested. Most important, a 25 percent score does not mean only 25 percent will graduate. But it's worth asking what the diploma will mean.

These initial numbers cannot be compared to previous scores because the tests were different. As students take the tests again in future years, their scores will indicate whether the district is showing improvement.

We're not enamored of standardized testing as a general rule, but it is one way to measure student progress. It's also not fair to blame low scores entirely on teachers or administrators. The three elementary schools with the above-average scores also happen to be three schools whose students have mostly above-average family incomes, which generally means more success in school.

Still, the initial results are not cause for celebration in the Medford School District as a whole. And that lofty goal of an 80 percent graduation rate two years from now seems less realistic than ever.