Four local schools move up to 'exceptional' rank in state assessment
by: , Engrossed in creative writing in Jean Benny’s third-grade class at Cedaroak Park Primary School are Skye Gates-Walker, left, and Sophia Wells. The school district, which improved its state-report-card grades last year, is focusing on improving writing skills for its more than 8,000 students.

The local school district's report card has been sent home, and most of the grades are As.

Jane Stickney, assistant superintendent of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, said she is elated that seven of nine West Linn schools were graded by the Oregon Department of Education as 'exceptional,' the state's highest grade. That's four more exceptional schools than last year. Only Sunset and Willamette primary schools were rated in the 'strong' category for the 2005-2006 school year.

The state's dividing line between report card grades is very strict. 'One-tenth of a percentage point is the difference between exceptional and strong,' Stickney said.

The Oregon Department of Education recently released report cards for more than 1,000 of the state's schools, noting that school ratings were on the rise statewide.

The report card formula includes a variety of data, including student scores on state-ordered tests, attendance, dropout rate, participation in statewide testing and an improvement rating which includes trends in test scores, attendance and dropout rates.

Schools can receive overall ratings of exceptional, strong, satisfactory, low and unacceptable.

Although the formula used to determine grades for Oregon schools is complicated, Stickney said it paints an accurate picture of what is happening in local classrooms.

That formula makes it difficult for high-achieving schools such as those in West Linn to maintain an exceptional rating, Stickney said.

For example, schools that are already at the 95 percent level or above find it difficult to improve significantly, and achieving improvement is a significant part of the state's formula.

Never the less, Stickney is very happy about the recent report cards for local schools.

'I'm very proud of all the district's students and teachers,' Stickney said, 'and the quality work they're doing.'

Stickney said fourth-grade writing scores were a bit lower than teachers expected, but they are now placing a districtwide emphasis on writing.

Stickney is expecting to see writing scores go up in next year's report cards. A part of that effort is teacher education on how to help children become better writers.

'We want students to be able to summarize and synthesize an idea into a coherent piece of writing,' Stickney said. 'As students use writing to clarify ideas, they are improving their analytical and critical-thinking skills.'

During staff-development time, Stickney said, district teachers are learning more techniques that motivate kids to write better.

That improvement will be necessary, she says, if schools are to remain in the same category next year. Stickney said the state is talking about 'raising the bar,' and that could mean requiring kids and schools to achieve higher scores to maintain the same rating.

But Stickney is not voicing criticism over that possibility.

'The high expectations and aspirations we have for the children,' she said, 'are really the aspirations of our community and our families.'

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