Oregon’s Scores Flat in Second Year of Common Core Testing

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Students in Oregon performed approximately the same as they did last year on end-of-year reading, writing, and math performance assessments, although there was a modicum of improvement in some elementary school grades and possibly a small improvement in the achievement by high school juniors.

The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond writes that 55% of all pupils mastered the Common Core English standards, while only 42% met the proficiency levels on the math exam. The Smarter Balanced tests were designed to measure whether students are college-ready when they graduate. Learners in Oregon have been taking the test for the past two years.

The comparison of the 2015 tests and the tests completed last school year showed that more third-graders were proficient in math and more fifth-graders mastered English. Juniors in high school exhibited strong scores in reading and writing but were weaker in math. However, the 11th-grade results are far from accurate because 10% of students opted out of the English exam and 13% did the same on the math test.

Ordinarily, schools improve performance goals during the initial years of administering a new test due to students and teachers becoming familiar with the style of the assessments and gaining skills in the content areas covered. But Portland Public School officials stated that the lack of progress in their district was because of the significant work that has been focused on elementary reading in the 2015-2016 academic year, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Russo.

Oregon school chief Salam Noor shared one positive statistic in the midst of the lackluster performance across the state. He pointed out that low-income, Latino, and special education students all showed improvement in reading and writing.

Russo says he was puzzled by the number of parents who opted their children out of the online testing in Portland than in the remaining metro area. He did note that the Portland school board instructed school employees to allow parents to make their personal decisions about whether their children would participate in the examinations.

There is a new state law requiring that parents be allowed to opt their children out of taking the tests at their pleasure, which explains why Portland, Bend, Eugene, and a number of smaller districts had rates of participation below 90%, observed the Associated Press and KTVZ-TV.

"What is most exciting about this year's results is the progress made by students across the board, including those from groups that have historically performed at lower levels than their peers," Noor said. "This progress reflects the dedication and hard work by our students and educators to meet higher standards as we aim to ensure all students in Oregon are successfully prepared for their next steps."

Oregon adopted the Common Core standards in the 2014-2015 school year to help Oregon students to increase their achievement. The philosophy behind the Common Core is to teach young people to apply their knowledge to "real world problems" and to improve their critical thinking skills, reports Jackie Labrecque of KATU-TV. The test includes writing essays and building equations, not just answering multiple-choice questions.

High rates of participation make for a more accurate picture of student achievement. Federal law mandates that at least 95% of students take the assessments, and though Oregon did not do so, no consequences have been levied against the state, reports Abby Spegman for The Bend Bulletin. Still, many teachers and parents feel the testing protocol takes too much time away from classroom instruction. Others say the new test is different than the old exam, which means it will take some time for students to adjust to the new methodology.

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