District navigates special education changes after ESD

Instructor Kendra Scott asks her students to name things they are thankful for during class in November 2018 at Rocky Heights Elementary School in Hermiston.

The Oregon Department of Education released results of Smarter Balanced test scores from the 2018-2019 year, and statewide, less than half of all students are up to par when it comes to math proficiency at their grade level and almost 60% demonstrate proficiency when it comes to reading and writing.

Scores show 53.4% of Oregon students were proficient in English language arts this year, by Smarter Balanced standards, a 1.5% drop from a year ago, and they’re 39.4% proficient in math, one point lower than last year.

Students are tested in grades three through eight, and as high school juniors. The department of education says the results provide a snapshot of student progress. But ODE notes that this is just one assessment and should be taken in context with other data points.

“It shouldn’t be the only thing we’re looking at,” ODE Director Colt Gill told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

This year, the results hold a little more weight than usual. State officials expect the data to help districts figure out how to spend some of the money from the new business tax for schools, called the Student Success Act.

With the exception of a few ups and downs, Umatilla County’s biggest districts seem to be maintaining their status quo.

At the Hermiston School District, assessment averages for the 2018-2019 school year are the same as the year prior, except for a less than 1% increase in mathematics scores.

“There weren’t really any surprises,” said Hermiston School District Assistant Superintendent Bryn Browning.

This year, 56.2% of all Hermiston students met proficiency standards in their grade level for English language arts, falling below the 59.7% state average. More than 44% met proficiency in mathematics, rising above the state’s 39.4% average.

While The Oregonian reported Thursday that low participation rates in the testing among high schoolers made for unreliable state results, student participation in the assessments neared 100% across all demographics in Hermiston.

“We have a few parents who exercise the right to not have their student take the assessments,” Browning said.

Across different grade levels, the only places where school district performance dropped below the state average involved fourth-grade English language arts, which at 45% proficiency was four points below the state’s average and 11th-grade mathematics, which showed 30% proficiency for the district and 32% statewide.

“We put a lot of effort into fourth grade last year,” Browning said. “But there were content changes in the assessment that we weren’t aware of.”

The district stated in a recent press release that students and their families will have access to their individual student reports later this fall through PowerSchool, which will provide scores and highlight areas of strength and weakness for each student.

Browning urged parents in the district to take a look at the individual scores.

“It will be interesting to see how many parents use PowerSchool,” Browning said. “Just take the time and go through the individual information. It can lend itself to some good conversation with students.”

She said that the assessment results provide a broader look at student success in the district, and that when Oregon Statewide Report Cards come out later this year, the district will be able to analyze student performance more deeply.

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