School

Tania Uribe, 11, reads along with her classmates in her copy of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen in Kyra Hruza’s sixth-grade “books and movies” class at Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla last week.

Smarter Balanced assessment scores for last year are out, and at the Umatilla School District just 18% of students demonstrated proficiency in math, and 31.5% for reading, as measured by the assessment.

The scores are much lower than the state’s average, but that doesn’t concern Superintendent Heidi Sipe.

To her, it’s simple.

“It’s easy to talk about the success of a school based off of a single number,” she said. “But if you were at the doctor, you wouldn’t want them determining your own health with just one number.”

Oregon students, grades three through eight as well as high school juniors, started taking Smarter Balanced tests in 2014. The purpose is to assess how well students are meeting the Common Core State Standards for reading, writing and math skills, which the state adopted in 2010.

The Oregon Department of Education recently stated that the numbers should be taken into context with other data points.

Sipe said that when Oregon was getting ready to release the Smarter Balanced assessments, the Umatilla School District helped pilot the first version. She said the district noticed a few troubling things, including the length of the tests.

“That was problem No. 1,” she said.

District data revealed that the only kids who appeared to meet proficiency standards for Smarter Balanced at the district were students who were getting 90% or higher on other assessments.

At the high school, many of the students who were graduating with an associate’s degree under their belts were underperforming on the Smarter Balanced tests.

So while other school districts are focused in on making sure each student is preparing to score well on Smarter Balanced, Umatilla School District is not making Smarter Balanced test prep a priority.

“We realized a long time ago that if we wanted to make positive outcomes happen for students, we needed to focus on graduation rates and other indicators,” Sipe said. “We just weren’t finding the information from Smarter Balanced helpful.”

Last year, the Umatilla School District adopted two new programs with the help of the Oregon Department of Education through a district improvement grant.

Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) — which, like Smarter Balanced, are computer adapted assessments based off Common Core — and an online analytics platform called BrightBytes became a part of the district’s assessment process last year.

Students of all grade levels take MAP tests three times a year, and the data focuses mostly on growth.

The data can be sorted by individual student or by classroom, and teachers can use the information to help form groups and assignments in class. It relies on a scoring system used in other state assessments, and is available in Spanish.

“One of the reasons we emphasize MAPS over Smarter Balanced,” Sipe said, “is that it provides opportunities for instructional changes for students based on growth.”

BrightBytes combines academic data with attendance and behavioral data to determine which students are “high risk” and require intervention in different areas. Sipe said that monthly and quarterly meetings are held with teachers to help suss out the data and form intervention plans.

The two programs kicked off at the district last year, and so far have inspired a few changes.

The district has added additional behavioral specialists to the schools and more kindergarten assessments. Sipe said that the achievement data from last year showed more proficiency in math among students, so the district adjusted reading curricula as well.

While students at the Umatilla School District still take the Smarter Balanced assessments, Sipe said there is no emphasis on test prep as there might be in other schools.

Things are different at the Pendleton School District, according to Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Matt Yoshioka.

“We give it a lot of credence,” he said. “It’s a reflection of our growth. We do take it seriously. We want to see those things change.”

Yoshioka said it’s part of the district’s strategic plan to track Smarter Balanced data, and that curriculum changes are made and goals are set based around the results.

“We don’t put all of our self-esteem into it,” he said.

The district uses i-Ready assessments, which are similar to MAPS to track student progress throughout the school year in addition to tracking annual achievement through Smarter Balanced.

As districts around Oregon find different ways to assess students, Sipe said parents shouldn’t hesitate to learn more about how their child’s success in school is being tracked.

“Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Expect answers,” she said. “Public schools need to be accountable.”

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