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Data drives schools to shift goals

The Medford School Board shifted its goal posts Monday night for future graduation rates and specified targets for third-grade reading proficiency.

“Our goals, all those things should be based on real data,” said Cynthia Wright, board chair. “And it hasn’t always been like that.”

In a process stretching from early August to Dec. 3, the Medford School Board and the district’s superintendent, Brian Shumate, updated the board’s goals, which set the group’s vision and are used to determine its progress.

The previous goals were in place since 2014.

“Our board feels strongly that these goals should be revisited to be sure we’re focusing on the right things,” Wright said. “It needs to be something that we’re on top of.”

One of the most significant changes the board amended is the timeline for when it expects a 90 percent graduation rate. That deadline now falls to 2025, five years later than the previous version.

Wright said the school board discussed the feasibility of attaining the 100-percent-by-2025 goal originally laid out, or even 95 percent, at an Aug. 6 retreat. The district fell two percent short of 2017’s target of 80 percent.

Data analysis provided by the Willamette Education Service District, however, led the board to settle on the 90 percent goal by 2025 Monday night.

Wright said that when forming the previous goals, “people weren’t paying attention to data.”

“Now we can look at things, we can look at growth, and we can set goals based on what we accomplished over time,” she said.

Shumate said the district’s relationship with the Willamette ESD began in 2017 after the Medford School Board was chosen to participate in a pilot training program to increase equity, funded by a collective of Oregon nonprofits that form the Chalkboard Project.

The result of that partnership is a forthcoming data dashboard, which will allow the school board to easily peruse data on student achievement, from attendance to Smarter Balanced Assessment scores to iReady, an additional thrice-yearly assessment Medford administers to elementary students.

This year, though, the district made its own $31,210 contract with Willamette ESD, so that its data team could provide Medford with predictive analyses to shape the board goals based on information collected in previous years.

“What I see in education way too many times is we just randomly pick numbers,” Shumate said. “We’re gonna increase five percent. Who said we could get there or is that even reasonable?”

Board members and Shumate agree that in the four years Shumate has been Medford’s superintendent, his research background and interest in student-achievement data has created a broader interest in how policy can be shaped by it.

“I’ve whetted their appetite for numbers, and they like it,” Shumate said.

It’s why more numbers are showing up in other board goals. The board’s third goal, ensuring that “each elementary student reads at grade level by the end of the third grade,” now includes proficiency rate goals for the following four years.

Willamette ESD data, plotted out in charts based on the district’s current trajectory, provided three levels of goals, all of which made it into the language approved by the board Monday night.

The “goal” is what the ESD predicted the district would reach if it continues its current progress. Above that the district has designated “stretch” and “aspirational” goals, which would be considered targets to exceed realistic expectations.

“I think it’s recognizing there’s a range there we can be working toward and to see what’s possible,” Wright said. “If we work really hard and do a really good job, those aspirational goals are a possibility.”

The board’s list of goals shrank from five to four, as members rewrote board goal one, pertaining to “academic excellence,” to also encompass what used to be the fourth board goal, aiming to accelerate learning for students performing below grade level.

Board members and Shumate both pointed to two areas where they expect to see a boost in improvement. One thing to watch for in third-grade reading proficiency rates, which Medford measures using Smarter Balanced and iReady data, is the impact on students who attended full-day kindergarten. The first cohort of full-day kindergarten students is in third grade this school year.

Freshman on-track data, measured by the state, also hit a new high in Medford’s most recent report card at 87 percent. If, theoretically, all those students stayed in line to graduate, Medford’s graduation rate would be 87 percent in another two and a half years.

Above the elementary level, Medford is employing a range of initiatives to keep students engaged in high school, from interest-based Pathways to more diverse online course offerings.

“We’re trying to invent a school district where any kid can navigate,” Shumate said. “Everything from a traditional high-school experience to alternative uses of times and programming so that a kid can remain on our rolls, still participate in the things they want to participate in, and modify their school day to meet their needs.”

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