As statewide assessment scores from last year come in, Hermiston schools have seen a slight bump in some areas. The majority of the district’s scores hover around the state average.
While the Oregon Department of Education’s director, Colt Gill, said he could not point to a highlight in any of the scores, Hermiston’s school staff are more optimistic. In a press release, assistant superintendent Bryn Browning said she was pleased that scores increased at nearly every grade level from the previous year.
“Last school year marked the implementation of a new science program for grades K-12 and a new math curriculum for grades K-5,” Browning said. “It is possible to see an ‘implementation dip’ with new curriculum acdoptions; however, we are pleased with the student achievement results at the end of year one.”
The ODE released scores last month for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which tests third to eighth grade students, as well as 11th graders.
The district said nearly 55 percent of all students that took the test met proficiency standards for their grade level in English Language Arts, and 41 percent met the standard in mathematics. Fifth, eighth and 11th grade students are also tested in science. Sixty-two percent of Hermiston’s students that took the test met proficiency standards in science.
Several Hermiston teachers said they were pleased with the growth they’ve seen in their own classrooms and schools, and that preparing students for testing is a year-round endeavor.
Melissa Doherty, a third-grade teacher at Rocky Heights Elementary School, said their principal lays out a framework for how each grade can draw on students’ previous year of schooling.
“Most of what we teach builds on the previous year, similar styles,” she said. “The kids are learning the right terminology from the beginning.”
Susan Frink, a Rocky Heights fifth-grade teacher, credited the district’s use of the i-Ready program, a personalized learning tool, with helping students prepare for the test.
She said with the frequent use of ChromeBooks in daily work, the process of taking tests is now less intimidating for students than it’s been in the past.
“We use the ChromeBooks in class,” she said. “We used to have to go to the lab. Now the kids are in class, it’s the same environment.”
Hermiston begins testing in April, and teachers said generally, each test (reading and math) takes about a week.
Doherty added third-grade teachers spend a bit more time preparing students for the testing environment, and helping them learn how to use the technology they’ll use to take the test.
Amanda Degan, a third-grade teacher at West Park Elementary, said she was happy with the scores her own students received, and has seen major improvement in the last few years.
Degan said she has some tasks that she has students work on every day that she felt prepared them for testing.
Each day, students complete an ‘entry task’ on their ChromeBooks. It may be a brief math problem that touches on a concept they learned the previous month, or a reading or writing question. She said while lessons move quickly, and a lesson plan may allow for teachers to spend only one week on a concept, the entry tasks allow her to revisit old lessons students might have had trouble with the first time.
While Degan said she’s happy with her students’ scores, she doesn’t feel the tests are always a fair assessment of students’ abilities.
“The reading portion is not read to them,” she said. “I have a couple of monolingual students who don’t speak English, and they have to take an English test.”
The only way for students to opt out because of a language barrier is if they’ve been in the U.S. less than a year.
She said that on tests that measure comprehension, a student who can’t read the text will not be able to demonstrate their knowledge, even if they can understand the content.
“You’re not really asking them what they understand — you’re asking what they can read,” she said.
Doherty said she likes that the Smarter Balanced Assessment pushes students in critical thinking.
“You can’t teach to the test,” she said. “It’s not ‘one size fits all.’ It assesses where the students are at this point.”
She added that a poor test score doesn’t mean a student won’t graduate high school or college.
“It’s a way for us as instructors to analyze data and see where we can improve.”