Oregon schools record poorest test scores in 5 years

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon schools have recorded their poorest performance in the five-year history of Oregon's current reading, writing and math tests this spring, registering year-over-year declines in every grade level and among nearly every demographic group, scores released Thursday show.

The scores indicate only 40% of students across grades three through eight have mastered math and just over half can read and write proficiently, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .

So many high school students sat out the nationally benchmarked tests, known as Smarter Balanced exams, that their results, which were down sharply in reading and writing, are not reliable. Nearly 20% of juniors declined to take the English or math exam or both, state figures show.

The performance decline and the continued disparities between white and Asian students and historically poorer performing students of color were a disappointment, given the frequent calls by state schools chief Colt Gill and other leaders in Oregon's education establishment to raise the bar and close achievement gaps.

The state has multimillion-dollar initiatives underway to raise achievement among black and Native American students. But Asian American students, already the top scorers in Oregon, were the only racial or ethnic group that registered consistent improvement on the tests this year.

The tests are designed to measure whether students have the skills they need to be on track for college and careers.

Portland Public Schools, Oregon's largest district, epitomized the poor English and math performance among low-income sixth- and seventh-graders. The district, where four of every 10 middle schoolers are low-income, saw painful declines in reading and writing skills among that group, with barely 30% scoring as proficient.

Three years ago, Portland district leaders acknowledged the reading and writing curriculum they'd used to teach those students, who by then were entering fourth- and fifth-grade, had been an inferior choice, particularly given the lack of training and support they gave teachers on how to best use those textbooks.

Luis Valentino, Portland's chief academic officer, said Portland plans to equip middle school teachers with more intervention strategies and tools for individualizing instruction, both in reading and in math.

Gill and others say they are optimistic that a massive infusion of a half a billion dollars in funding for public schools and early childhood education starting in fall 2020 will pay off in measurable ways. The money will help provide things including smaller classes, additional mental health and behavioral supports and improved attention to students of color. Gill encouraged parents and taxpayers to reach out to school district leaders now to offer input on how they think the district could best spend the new money.

He also cautioned against reading too much into the test results, noting that an in-depth end-of-year test over reading, writing and math doesn't capture the breadth of subjects that students should learn in a well-rounded curriculum.

"We must be careful to ensure this incomplete data does not skew our thinking or our actions," Gill said in a statement issued by his office.

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com