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Estacada students lag state on test scores

Fewer than one in four students in the Estacada School District are doing math at grade level and fewer than half are proficient in reading and language arts, test scores recently released by the Oregon Department of Education show.

“We recognize they (test scores) are nowhere near where we want them to be. We believe our students and schools can do a lot better and we are putting resources into our schools to make that happen,” said Scott Sullivan, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

In math, 24.4 percent of Estacada students tested in the 2015-16 school year showed results that put them on track for graduation. That score is slightly improved from the 23.7 percent of the prior year.

Estacada also lagged compared with statewide results in math. In Oregon, standardized math tests showed 42 percent of students at a level that puts them on track to graduate from high school.

In reading and language arts the picture is a bit brighter, with more than half, 55 percent, of students working at grade level statewide. In Estacada, only 44.8 percent of students had test scores that were proficient in reading, writing and language arts.

The Oregon Department of Education cautions that these test scores are only one measure of student achievement and success. And, this is only the second year that students took the new Smarter Balanced tests based on the Common Core state standards. The tests are taken online, which is also different for many students who are used to “bubbling in” answers on paper forms.

Sullivan pointed out that the district has several charter schools that draw many students from outside the district and generally produce weaker test scores. When those numbers are backed out, Estacada’s numbers are stronger. At the high school for example, 77.4 percent of 11th-graders tested proficient in language arts, but only 29.1 percent were over the bar in math. At Estacada Middle School, 18.5 percent of students were testing at grade level in math.

The new Smarter Balanced tests are scored from Level 1 to Level 4. If a student scores a 3 or 4 they are considered to be at grade level or better and on track to graduate from high school and be ready for college or a career.

The district is taking a range of steps to improve student achievement.

“We are putting on a full court press on all of this,” Sullivan said. Among other steps, the district is adding a new instructional coach to every building and a major focus will be improving math instruction and thus student learning.

“We’ll have consultants meeting monthly with teachers for professional development (training),” he said. And the district bought all new math books and materials for every grade.

If a student scores a Level 1 or 2, the Oregon Department of Education said they will receive extra help to get to grade level and become college or career ready.

The state also released test scores in science. Science is not part of the new Smarter Balanced exams, but the old OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) benchmarks.

In science, 54.9 percent of students in Estacada tested at grade level, compared with 63 percent of students state-wide who were proficient in science skills. Estacada’s score dropped from 57.5 in the 2014-15 school year.

The Common Core state standards are a more rigorous set of guidelines detailing what students should know at each level of their education. They were unveiled in 2010 and initially adopted by 42 states. The related Smarter Balanced tests are given in 17 states, including Washington.

The Smarter Balanced tests are not the old multiple-choice, “bubble in” standardized tests many people know. Smarter Balanced requires students to write out many answers in essay form and show and explain their work in math, although there are some multiple choice answers.

“Students are asked to write, reason, think critically and solve multi-step problems that better reflect classroom learning and the real world. For the first time, our standards — and our tests — are aligned with the expectations of colleges and employers,” ODE said.

Common Core and the related Smarter Balanced testing has been controversial. Several states have dropped the Common Core standards and a growing number of families have opted out of the tests nationwide, including in Oregon.

Statewide about 96 percent of students participated in the language arts testing, 95 percent took the math tests and 89 percent took the science test.

Some people object to what they perceive as increased federal control of education, although Common Core and Smarter Balanced tests were crafted by a consortium of states, not the federal government. Others feel there is an over emphasis on testing and some think the tests are just too long.

Complete results can be viewed on the Oregon Department of Education web site at ode.state.or.us/.