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Rising targets and the impact on AYP ratings

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Recently, I released the 2010-11 Preliminary Adequate Yearly Progress ratings for Oregon's public schools. On the face of it, these results look quite discouraging.

Only 54 percent of Oregon schools met the federal AYP targets - down from 71 percent last year. Clearly, we are not where we need to be. However, these results only show us part of the picture of what's going on in our schools, and they do not mean that our students or our schools are doing worse. In fact, we know from preliminary test results that student achievement is on the rise in Oregon!

The drop in the percent of schools meeting these targets was the result of two significant changes since last year: Increases in the federal targets and higher state math standards. In the 2009-10 school year, schools had to have 59 percent of students meeting state standards in math and 60 percent meeting in reading in order to meet federal adequate yearly progress. This year, these targets went up to 70 percent in both subjects. In addition, this past October the state Board of Education adopted higher expectations for elementary and middle school students in math to provide students, parents, and teachers with better information about how prepared students are to meet high school diploma requirements and graduate ready for college and career. These two changes raised the bar for our schools, making it harder than ever before to meet these federal targets.

We know from preliminary test results that our students and our schools are rising to the challenge of these new higher expectations. We are seeing strong growth in student achievement - growth that we should all be proud of - but this growth was not enough to get all of our students and schools over this higher bar. But by increasing expectations, our state has taken an important step toward ensuring that all of our students graduate ready to compete in our 21st century workplace. We must maintain our commitment to these higher standards and our focus on career and college ready skills for all of our kids.

I know firsthand the good work going on in our schools to improve opportunities and outcomes for kids, but unfortunately, these AYP results do not reflect the growth and innovation taking place in Oregon schools. This decade-old law has served an important role in shaping education in our country - focusing on the importance of standards-based education and shining the light on key issues like the academic achievement gap. However, this law is long overdue for reform. It fails to account for individual student growth, offers no real flexibility to our schools, and hinders, rather than supports, educational innovation.

Education in Oregon, and around the country, has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. We are increasing expectations from elementary through high school to ensure all of our students graduate ready for college and career. We have adopted the Common Core - rigorous national standards that put our students on a level playing field with their peers around the country. We are implementing educational models based on proficiency, personalization, and individual growth. And we are working with the governor's office to build a more seamless education system which connects students to services and supports pre-K through higher education. In short, we are moving ahead and creating the 21st century education system we know our students need and deserve. If Congress does not act on reauthorization, Oregon will join with states from around the country in calling for waivers and additional flexibility so that we can create a 21st century accountability system that truly meets the needs of our students and our schools.

We know that we are not seeing the results we need to see for all of our students. But we also know that the AYP results do not portray the full picture of education in Oregon. We need an accountability system that accounts for student level growth and supports both accountability and innovation. And most importantly, we need to keep the focus on increasing the rigor and ensuring that our students exit our schools with the skills to succeed in life, work and citizenship.

Castillo is the superintendent of Oregon Department of Education.