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Interpreting new ODE state assessment scores is no easy task

With the new, higher standards in science and reading, Crook County, like many school districts, has lower scores
As state assessment results were released by the Oregon Department of Education last Wednesday, more questions than answers emerge on the results — both locally and statewide.
   The new scores reflect the higher standards in science and reading. According to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), there were some significant changes to the science standards, including the addition of Scientific Inquiry and Engineering Design. These new science learning standards have been phased into classroom instruction over the past several years, but this past year was the first time students were tested on the new standards. 
    “Our state made a commitment to rigorous college-and career-ready expectations in English and math through the adoption of the Common Core (Standards),” said Acting Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton.  “We need to make a similar level of commitment to science if we are going to ensure our students are ready for today’s competitive, technology-rich world.  Proficiency in the STEM subjects — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — will only become more vital in the years to come.”
   When showing the most recent figures in reading and science, the ODE used comparative numbers for 2010-2011 that show the original assessment, and the figures of how they would be assessed under new standards. This gave a clearer picture of the test scores in a true comparison.  
   “I think we have to look at it two ways — in terms of academic growth, and then how we are comparing against the state,” commented Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha.
   He added that the area he wants to focus on in the short and long-term is math.
   “It’s what I would really like to focus on,” noted Yecha. “I would like us to significantly focus on K-3 math.”
   The CCSD math scores have come up in fourth grade by 8.2 percentage points from last year. Grades five, eight, and the high school level were pretty much status quo, and sixth and seventh grade made some big strides, with 12 and 15.2 percentage points, respectively. The one grade that fell was third, down 12.5 from last year.
   “There’s a balance of good news here,” said Yecha. “For me, it’s a call to arms to have us look at those math scores, particularly in the primary grades. What are we going to do? How are we going to respond? I think we need to have a significant conversation in this district about that.”
   At the state level for science assessment scores, all grades saw a decrease in student performance. This was also true across the board with Central Oregon school districts — including Crook County School District. Using the comparative scores from last year to present, grade 5 had a 6.6 drop in scores, grade 8 had a 3.3 drop, and CCHS scored 77.5 percent in science, compared to the district overall score for this age group of 71.8 percent.
   These trends held true for other districts, with Bend LaPine dropping by 6.8 percentage points at the high school level, using the comparative figures. Jefferson County dropped 16.3 at the high school level, and Redmond School District remained status quo. Sisters School District lost 3.2 percentage points at the high school level.
   All of the scores for reading are on the upswing for Crook County. The third grade remained status quo, and all others ranged from 5 to 16 percentage points higher. Writing was only assessed at the high school level, with a gain of 2 points. 
   Rocky Miner explained that when considering state test scores from the ODE website, the public must remember that the overall high school score for any of the areas — reading, math, science, or writing — includes all subgroups such as Pioneer Alternative High School, Rimrock Adolescent Treatment Center, COIC, and Insight Alternative School. When Insight Charter School begins doing assessments, these scores will also be included.
   Because the numbers for Crook County High School are pulled out separately from these subgroups, there is no way to use the comparative scores from last year. In math, the difference between the isolated high school scores from the other subgroups was 70.4 percent-compared to the overall score of 60.7 percent for all the subgroups. In writing it was 67.7 percent compared to 60.6 percent, and in reading it was 91.9 compared to 85.1.
   Miner added that over the last few years, the state standards and benchmarks the state has set are moving targets.
   “About the time you think you have your curriculum aligned and you are reaching the benchmark scores, the state raises the benchmark. This has happened many times over the years.”
   He went on to say that the way data is being reported is also changing.
   “We now have the Achievement Compact, Oregon’s Growth Model, and the Next Generation Accountability as a new school rating system,” added Miner. “Again, it is important information for us, and we need to understand the data, but once again the target is moving.”
   Miner noted that he and his staff will focus on the things that don’t change — those things that aren’t a moving target. Some examples include aligning curriculum that the school is assessed on, the school’s department assessments that are aligned to the curriculum, analyzing ACT data to look for strengths and weaknesses and making appropriate adjustments, having academically rigorous and challenging classes for upper and middle students, and having remediation/intervention classes for struggling students.
   Jim Bates, Cecil Sly Principal, also noted that the new accountability models focuses on student growth. 
   “The reports each principal spoke to at our last Board meeting show that our students are on track or better in many academic areas,” said Bates. “They also identify specific sub-groups that we can give extra attention to if needed and clearly there is a need in some areas.  In Crook County School District, the entire staff has accepted the tremendous losses of a few years back and reshaped how we work together.  We operate with a very lean staffing system but make growth in many categories.  No one is satisfied with our current numbers because there is an opportunity to do better.  There is no shortage of dedication in our workforce.  That’s the story behind the numbers that is encouraging to me.  This new series of accountability systems is unfolding as the weeks pass.  As it does, each school will identify any category that needs improving and prepare to do anything necessary for the students.”
   Director of School Improvement for Bend-LaPine Schools Dave VanLoo believes that the overall changes in state assessment are a good thing. He said that they are more in line with where kids need to be, especially in the lower grades. He also noted that The Next Generation Accountability system factors in student growth, and does a better job of measuring learning.
   “It’s really comparing apples to apples,” said VanLoo.