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Banks, Gaston do better than Forest Grove on 'Smarter Balanced' tests

State test scores released this week show mixed bag

School test scores released Thursday, Sept. 8, revealed a mixed bag for the Banks, Gaston and Forest Grove school districts, with some scores much higher than the state average and some shockingly low.

The tests are given each year across Oregon to students in grades three through eight and also grade 11 in order to measure their proficiency in certain subjects and to spot potential problems in certain districts or schools.

Statewide, between nearly one half and two thirds of students are on track for college and careers, as measured by the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests. Students are considered “on track” for their grade level if they score a 3 or 4 on the tests. A 1 or 2 score indicates they need help.

Test results include those of students with disabilities, students living in poverty, English learners and historically underserved student groups.

This is the second year of the Smarter Balanced English and math tests, which were designed to align with the Common Core curriculum that Oregon adopted in 2010.


All three districts’ math scores came in generally below the state average of 42 percent of students receiving a score of 3 or 4.

Banks scored the highest with middle and high school students sneaking above state averages by grade level. About 40 percent of Banks elementary students came in on track, compared to 44 percent of elementary students statewide; 42 percent of middle school, compared to 41.6 percent of middle school students statewide; and 39 percent of juniors, compared to 33 percent statewide. In addition, high school scores increased by about five percentage points compared to last year.

“We want to get better every year,” said Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo.

A former math teacher, Leo said about half his students always struggled with math and guesses that still holds true. So they start out as freshmen taking lower-level math classes.

But that can be a problem when they are juniors taking the assessment tests, which are heavy with Algebra II material — because many won’t get to Algebra II until their senior year.

In Gaston, only 31.5 percent of students in both schools are on track in math scores, with elementary scores declining from last year’s score of 41.1 percent.

Forest Grove High School’s math scores are the lowest of the three districts, with a district average of only 28.5 percent of students on track.

FGSD Assistant Superintendent John O’Neill said the district’s newly adopted kindergarten through 12th grade math curriculum and new Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math coordinator position will help the district in its efforts to enhance math and reading education.

Cornelius Elementary School shows the lowest math scores in the district with only 20.7 percent of students on track.

Cornelius Elementary Principal Angella Graves is excited for the newly adopted district-wide math cirriculum “that will support even higher levels of student performance in the future. While we are encouraged by last year’s improvements, we are more determined than ever to have our students reach these higher levels of rigor.”

The Forest Grove Community School shows the highest scores with 59.4 percent on track. Dilley Elementary School is a close second with 58.1 percent.

Language Arts

Things are looking a little better in the language arts category for all three districts.

Banks language arts scores get progressively better, with third-, fourth- and fifth-grade “on track” scores of 41.3 to 50 percent -- compared to 51.3 percent of elementary students statewide -- and middle-school scores of 47.3 to 55.4 percent -- compared to 55.3 percent fo middle school students statewide. That jumps to nearly 85 percent of high school juniors who are on track, about a 13.5 percent improvement from last year’s scores and well above the 69 percent statewide average for juniors.

Leo said the Banks staff looks at individual students’ scores as well as what material students are missing at each grade level. This helps staff fill in the blanks and catch problems early, he said.

Gaston’s junior/senior high school English scores are above the state district-wide average, coming in at 59.7 percent, but below the statewide average for juniors. The elementary level scores are at 38 percent, however, compared to a state-wide average of 51.3 percent of elementary students statewide.

Forest Grove High School shows 53.3 percent of juniors on track.

At the elementary level, Fern Hill is struggling, with only 16.7 percent of students on track.

While still low, Cornelius Elementary School has shown improvement, scoring 24.7 percent this year after scoring 19.3 percent last year.

One class in particular stands out for improvement. Last year, only 9.3 percent of Cornelius Elementary’s third graders were on track in language arts. But as fourth graders this year, 25.3 percent of them are now on track.

For a closer look at how school staff are aligning cirriculum to Common Core standards, Graves said school leaders recently added special teams to support positive behavior and to improve early identification of students with learning or behavior needs, as well as to analyze each grade level’s standards.

Once again, the Forest Grove Community School came out on top with nearly 67 percent of its students on track.


This test, which has not changed from the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test, showed the Gaston and Banks districts above the state average of 63 percent, with 73.7 percent to 81.6 percent of Gaston students and 67.1 and 72.3 percent of Banks students receiving a score of three or four throughout the different grade levels.

Forest Grove comes in below the state average, with only 40 to 48 percent on track.

The one exception, again, is the Forest Grove Community School, which boasts between 76 and 85.7 percent of “on track” students — the highest level in all three school districts.

FGCS Principal Vanessa Gray declined to discuss why the free public charter school’s scores might be so much higher. Its online profile notes that FGCS is a “smaller school environment” for grades one through eight that uses place-based, hands-on learning through interactions with the community, as well as mixed-grade classrooms in which both teachers and students are able to form “longer-term relationships, developing security and belonging.”

Overall, it’s important to remember that the test scores are just “one piece of information,” said Derek Brown, assistant superintendent of assessment and accountability for the Oregon Department of Education, stressing that districts, teachers and parents need more information to form a more holistic view of student progress.

“There are a lot of variables at play here,” Brown said.