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Record number of schools in 'need of improvement'

State rankings show where county schools flourish, fall short


A report card released last week by the Oregon Department of Education rated six schools in south Columbia County as “outstanding,” five as “satisfactory” and one “in need of improvement.”

The St. Helens School District had two “outstanding” schools according to the 2011-12 rankings: the recently closedby: KATIE WILSON - St. Helens School District buses line up. Columbia City School and the Arthur Academy charter school. St. Helens Middle School and Lewis and Clark Elementary were rated “satisfactory.” The high school is considered “in need of improvement.”

“It’s a grade,” said Mark Davalos, St. Helens School District Superintendent, about the report card rankings. While there could be a lot of reasons for a high grade or a low grade, “A score is a score,” he said. Rather than make excuses, the school district needs to look closely at what happened for the high school to be ranked where it was, he said.

The Scappoose School District had four schools dubbed outstanding: Scappoose High, Sauvie Island Academy, South Columbia Family School and Warren Elementary. The district’s three other schools were rated satisfactory.

The state did not consider any schools in the Scappoose district “in need of improvement.”

The report cards provide communities with information about school performance in a variety of areas including student achievement, attendance and graduation, demographics and student achievement. This is the last year this particular type of annual report card will be used to rate schools.

Already the current report cards, released Oct. 11, are changed from those released the year before.

This year, a record number of Oregon schools were considered “in need of improvement.” The 113 different schools received this rank because of low reading and math scores or high dropout rates.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, this large number of low-rated schools is due to higher expectations regarding student performance on reading and math tests.

Under the new standards, there is more pressure on schools to graduate high school students in four years. For a school to be considered “outstanding” it must graduate 77 percent of its students in four years.

Davalos said he believes it is now even more important to look at education all the way from kindergarten to the 12th grade.

“This is not just an individual grade having a problem,” he said, addressing the issue of graduation. “Where are kids starting to fall back or fall behind?”

Columbia City School was shuttered this year for budget reasons and Davalos said the district must look at what those teachers did to achieve its “outstanding ranking.”

“We don’t want to leave a result to ‘Oh, that’s just how it came out,’” he said. “We need to know how the results will come out. You have to be very conscious of every student group, every subgroup. Sometimes (the performance of) just one group alone will give you a major change in your result.”

While the new system of ranking schools and assessing student performance may be demanding and sometimes confusing, he believes it will be in everyone’s best interest.

“If you’re failing a group of kids repeatedly, you should be called out,” Davalos said. “The new system does that.”