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Officials seek delay in Oregon school test ratings

PORTLAND — Oregon education leaders say they want a yearlong delay in rating schools based on a new set of tougher tests after the state's teachers union raised objections.

Chief education officer Nancy Golden said Monday that schools should get a one-year reprieve from being ranked by scores on tests based on rigorous academic standards called Common Core, which most states, including Oregon, have adopted, The Oregonian reported.

She reached that conclusion after Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered a review in response to complaints from the Oregon Education Association.

The tests called Smarter Balanced will still be given, and the state will put out a report card with the results. But Oregon won't issue a rating for this year that compares schools against each other, according to Golden's recommendation.

Rating schools based on performance on the unfamiliar tests could harm students, Golden said.

"When students hear that their school is rated low, it can make them feel they contributed to it," she said.

Golden's recommendation still could change by March, but Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton said he agrees with it.

For more than a decade, Oregon has rated schools based in large part on their test scores. They aren't compared to a set standard but in relation to each other.

Schools whose student growth and test performance rate in the top 10 percent get the top rating, Level 5, and schools in the bottom 5 percent of performance get the worst rating, Level 1.

Nine months ago, members of the Oregon Education Association said the Smarter Balanced tests were too hard and too many students would feel bad when they couldn't pass. It called on Saxton to forgo the tests altogether, but he never seriously considered that request.

But Saxton says the state should suspend performance ratings for one year because school and district leaders have so many concerns and misconceptions about how a rating system would work.

The Obama administration has signaled that states using the Smarter Balanced test this spring will get federal permission to forgo ratings for this year if they ask. Saxton said Oregon will send the request.

Previously, Oregon has used the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS, tests.

The Smarter Balanced tests cover what students are supposed to be taught under the Common Core reading, writing and math standards that Oregon adopted in 2010. They are considered more demanding than the OAKS tests: not exclusively multiple-choice and requiring students to cite evidence to support their answers.

Last spring, 4 million students took the Smarter Balanced tests to work out problems. This spring, they will be given in 19 states, including Oregon, Washington and California.