As Standards Rise, More Oregon Schools ‘Need Improvement’

Nearly one in ten Oregon public schools have been designated as being in need of improvement, The Oregonian reports. A full three-quarters of those schools are on the list because their students scored too low on math and science achievement exams or have a dropout rate that is considered too high. However, the report cards, issued for 1,200 Oregon schools, show that the majority of the schools were making adequate yearly progress, with 32% considered “outstanding.”

A 10% needs improvement rate is unusually high for the state where only two years ago a mere 4% of schools were marked as underperforming. Starting last year, more rigorous mathematics and reading tests were introduced by the state Department of Education, which also raised the percentage of high schoolers each school should graduate on time in order to be considered for a “satisfactory” grade.

Prior to this year, a high school that graduated 69% of its students within four years was considered outstanding. Starting this year, to be considered even satisfactory, a high school must make sure that 67% of its students graduated on time.

“We are setting a higher standard for ourselves because we are not satisfied with where we are,” said Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton. “Students’ future really depends on whether they are going to graduate from high school, as does our state’s future. … We have got to bring all resources to bear on improving this.”

An outstanding school would have 72% of its students graduate within four years or 77% of its students graduate after five years.

Principals in Oregon schools have also taken exception with the fact that their schools would be considered in need of improvement merely for failing to make sure that 95% of each demographic group defined by the state take the required English and mathematics exams.

Hillsboro’s Liberty High, for example, has above-average math and reading scores and an outstanding graduation rate. It does not have a serious performance problem, despite the state’s label, said Vice Principal Vicky Lindberg.

State records show Liberty tested 99 percent of its students in both reading and math. Among special education students, 100 percent took the math test but 93 percent took the reading test, the state says — and for that flaw alone, the school was rated in need of improvement.

The 95% mandate comes not from the state education authority, but directly from the U.S. Department of Education — which is meant to help avoid situations such as in Texas where the former superintendent of El Paso school district may face prison time for preventing underperforming students from taking assessment exams.