Oregon Standardized Test Results Show Alarming Decline

The latest results of Oregon’s standardized tests are far from promising — and could be described as abysmal. The data shows that results declined significantly in at least one subject in every grade level tested, including a 7% drop in passage rates on the writing test given to high school juniors.

The decline in writing exam results is particularly troubling because these students, now seniors, will be required pass the writing exam to receive a high school diploma in the spring. They are the second Oregon high school class who are subject to this requirement.

Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian writes that 16,000 12th graders still have not met the requirement, including 90% of those for whom English is not their first language. The rates among African-American students and special education students are similarly high.

Nancy Golden, Oregon’s interim chief education officer who was superintendent of Springfield schools until June, said years of flat or diminished school funding took a toll. Districts clipped days off the school year, cut teaching positions and delayed buying new teaching materials.

“When you take furlough days, significant amounts of them, and bigger class sizes, that can definitely have an impact on learning,” she said.

Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton said the broad decline in passing rates may primarily reflect that students took state tests fewer times, not that schools taught them less.

This year Oregon allowed only a single retake of the multiple-choice exams in reading, math and science for those who failed it the first time. Prior to this year, students had two opportunities to retake the exams.

The rules for the writing exam taken by juniors are even more stringent. No retakes are allowed at all. Instead, a student may attempt the test as early as their sophomore year and then retake it in their junior year if they fail.

“The more opportunities you have to take an assessment, the more likely you are to be able to pass it, especially if you are in the vicinity of being able to pass,” Saxton said.

With many provisions of No Child Left Behind waived beginning last year, he and Golden said, schools shifted from focusing on coaching and retesting students who nearly passed to trying to help all students grow. That helps explain why passing rates fell more than average scores did, Saxton said.

Golden explained that the new approach takes the state away from allowing those on the cusp to pass thanks to multiple test attempts and moves towards helping students of all levels improve, although Saxton admitted that the results of the tests proved disappointing.

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