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YouthTruth: Medford schools not measuring up

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Medford elementary-schoolers' opinion on the rigor of their education doesn't line up well next to their peers, new student survey results show.

Fifth- and sixth-graders' responses to questions about academic rigor, describing "the degree to which students feel their learning is challenging and relevant," placed the Medford School District in the 18th percentile, respectively, among 334 other small city schools surveyed by the YouthTruth Student Survey.

This was Medford's third year administering the survey, which aims to capture students' perceptions and opinions of their own educational experience -- this was the first year for its elementary students.

The survey uses a five-point Likert scale that asks students to respond to questions from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Even while most of Medford’s scores in different categories from elementary through high school fall somewhere between two and four points, its percentile results show that students elsewhere frequently scored their schools higher.

College and career readiness and engagement were the lowest comparatively scored areas among Medford’s high school students; those scores put the district in the 13th and 27th percentile, respectively.

Kevin Campbell, Medford’s director of secondary student achievement, said whether the student feedback puts Medford in a higher or lower percentile, the information helps staff know how to improve.

“The whole thing is not about finding out what’s wrong or right with your school,” he said. “The whole thing is to take a view of what students think and consider that as you’re changing your plans for your school.”

Elementary students scored their schools high in engagement — placing Medford in the 79th percentile — and culture (63rd percentile), similarly to Medford high school students, who also gave higher comparative scores in culture (59th percentile) and relationships (53rd percentile).

Koko Hisamoto and Lainie Fitzgerald, both juniors at North Medford, said those aspects of their experience lined up.

“North does a good job at taking care of its students,” Hisamoto said.

“The school’s really good about being inclusive,” Fitzgerald said. “They make that a big deal — we should respect others, and we’re a big family.”

Medford officials aim to sample at least 80 percent of the district’s students in both the elementary and secondary surveys to get a complete picture of student views.

This was the third year Medford has had students take the YouthTruth survey; it started with high school students, went to the two main middle schools and for the first time was extended to seventh- and eighth-graders at Ruch Outdoor Community School as well as elementary fifth- and sixth-graders.

The sixth-graders who are enrolled in the district’s Sixth Grade Academy took the middle-school survey.

Campbell and Jeanne Grazioli, Medford’s director of elementary student achievement, presented the survey results Feb. 25 to Medford School Board members at a work session. They and a few principals from Medford elementary, middle and high schools described how the feedback is implemented at each campus.

The principals said they go over the data with their site councils and in staff meetings.

Ruch Principal Julie Barry said she asked eighth-grade students about some of the results, especially how they scored the school’s performance in preparing them for high school.

Campbell acknowledged that the data can initially shock teachers when they first see them.

“You can imagine what kind of message that sends when you show this at a staff meeting,” Campbell said. “The principals are the most popular staff member at that meeting on YouthTruth day.”

He noted that, on the five-point scale, even when Medford fell into a lower percentile, high school scores were above average: never below a three out of five.

The board and staff discussed specific metrics in the survey and factors that may have played a role in the results.

Because the survey was taken in October, which is only about six weeks into the school year, administrators wondered whether the students might not have enough time to be able to assess certain aspects of their experience, such as college and career readiness.

Looking at the lower percentile score in that area, several board members agreed that students don’t know enough yet about the district’s initiatives to bolster that aspect of their education.

One example is the Pathways plan implemented at Medford’s high schools — it structures students’ experience around a chosen career interest, offering classes that fall into that area.

“Somehow we’re missing this communication,” said Suzanne Messer, the board vice-chair. “We’re going to parents with all these things, but somehow these kids, either they’re hearing it and not understanding it, but something is not clicking yet.”

Hisamoto said her experience being introduced to the Pathway concept was somewhat fractured.

“They kinda threw something at us about the Pathways yesterday in one of my classes, and that’s like the only time they’ve addressed it,” she said. “Before, they told us: pick a Pathway, it doesn’t matter which one you pick, just pick one. That way you have one on your transcript.”

Principals at the work session said they’re continuing to improve their messaging to ninth-graders how choosing a Pathway works and why they do so.

“It’s something we rolled out, and we’re building it as we go,” said Donnie Frazier, principal of South Medford High School.

Students who have taken the survey for the last few years expressed that they hoped their teachers and principals are listening.

“We usually do it every year, but I haven’t heard anything since I’ve been taking it,” said Sophia Serna, a junior at South Medford High School. “I definitely would hope that they would put more thought into the way they teach us.”

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

Medford students weigh in on the YouthTruth SurveyThumbnail
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune{ } North Medford High School juniors Koko Hisamoto and Lainie Fitzgerald talk about the YouthTruth survey they took last fall.