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Area schools get mixed grades from state

Education — Oregon Department of Education unveils its redesigned report cards, with Edwards Elementary and St. Paul High School earning the highest possible rating


Report cards from the Oregon Department of Education came out last week and both the Newberg and St. Paul school districts appear to have passed overall, but the results for individual schools in both districts were mixed.

The state unveiled its redesigned report-card format for district and school evaluations, with some individual schools excelling, most doing well and some clearly needing improvement.

Among the highlights for Newberg were Edwards and Ewing Young elementary schools, which received the highest rating possible, level 5, for ranking in the top 10 percent when compared to all schools in the state.

In addition, Edwards was named a “model” school for being ranked among the top five percent of Title I schools in the state.

“Not to take away from any of our schools because we’re pleased with all of them, but for a school that has a high significant population of kids from poverty and kids labeled at-risk by our state to perform at a level that is in the top 10 percent of the state is pretty remarkable, so we’re really proud of the staff over at Edwards,” superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza said. “That was a huge accomplishment there.”

Overall, Newberg’s four other elementary and two middle schools received level 4 ratings — which represent schools falling between the 44th and 90th percentiles. The ratings are presented on a graphic that is scaled from 0 to 100 to show where each school sits within each rating level, versus the state average and overall. All eight Newberg elementary and middle schools scored at above the state average, with Ewing Young earning the highest ranking versus all schools in the state, coming in around the 97th percentile. Edwards was better than about 92 percent of schools statewide.

Newberg High School was ranked at level 3, falling high in the range between15th and 44th percentiles of schools in the state. It was the only school in the district rated below the state average.

The report cards also included ratings based on comparisons with schools with similar demographics, but these broke down into just three categories: below average (below 33 percent), about average (between 34 and 67) and above average (above 67). All nine schools rated about average or higher, with six evaluated as above average and three, including NHS, as about average. These ratings were not scaled to provide more context within each rating group or overall.

The report cards are based on a new accountability system that addresses multiple factors when assessing school performance, including a bigger emphasis on student growth and student outcomes, so as to be more accurate in specific areas like college and career readiness.

While LeBlanc-Esparza said she appreciates that the report cards are broadening evaluation methods, especially accounting for growth, she said they are just one way to assess the district and individual schools. Even the report cards themselves state that each rating is “based mainly on high-stakes testing and, accordingly, represents a limited view of student performance,” and that other aspects of the report card are “meant to put that rating in context.”

“While the state assessment is a nice snapshot to kind of give us a 10,000-foot view, it’s not something we use to inform instruction,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “Our own assessments that our teachers use really give us a lot more information about our kids and helps us direct our efforts.”

St. Paul schools see mixed results

St. Paul’s high school and middle schools were evaluated together, receiving a level 5 rating and ranking better than about 95 percent of schools in the state.

“I think it’s a strong instructional program,” St. Paul superintendent Joe Wehrli said. “I think the (the rating) is a combination of that, the fact that St. Paul has been able to maintain reasonable class sizes and we haven’t had to cut school days like some districts. We’re hoping to keep managing our resources to keep the program strong.”

On the other hand, St. Paul Elementary was handed a level 2 rating, falling between the bottom 5 and 15 percent of schools in the state. The school was also scaled toward the bottom of that range and given a below average rating compared to similar schools.

It appears a large reason for the poor ratings come from significant drops in student performance on state testing, with the percentage of students exceeding state standards falling below both the overall state averages and the like-school averages in all three of the main categories: reading, mathematics and science.

Many of those ratings were above current state averages as recently as one or two years ago, meaning the negative growth factor likely contributed significantly to the overall school rating.

“Obviously, it’s an area that we’re going to focus on,” Wehrli said. “The staff has been working hard and will continue to work hard to find ways to improve academic achievement at all levels.”

Wehrli added that the district is digging into the state assessment data and cross referencing it with academic achievement data to just that.

He also pointed out that with such a small student population, test scores – and therefore ratings — at St. Paul Elementary are subject to greater swings than in schools and districts with more students, diminishing the ratings’ value as a comparative tool.

“In especially large districts with hundreds or thousands of students, performance data will more accurately reflect the aggregate average of the state,” Wehrli said. “But when you have 10 kids, one of them doesn’t show up or do well, that’s 10 percent of your score right there.”

The most encouraging sign for St. Paul is that the academic performance results for middle school students were above state and like-school averages in every area but science. The high school’s results all beat the comparative averages, in many cases significantly so, including in several area where the percentage meeting state standards were well over 90 percent.

“The trend of increased performance scores as students move through our education system is a positive indicator of student success,” Wehrli said in his statement included in the report card. “As a district however, we realize there is much room for improvement.”

In contrast, Newberg exceeded overall-state and like-school averages at all grade levels and subject matters.

Improvements and strong figures in other areas, including an 8 percent jump in graduation rate up to 78.2 percent (state average: 68.40) and the district’s push for college readiness and career education, also have Newberg officials believing NHS is on the right track despite the state rating.



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