School districts accountability for test scores is encouraging


During the past several years, when the Oregon Department of Education released its school district report cards, the Crook County School District typically received a mixed review.

While some portions of it showed encouraging results, there were other data that showed a need for improvement and a need for the school district to step up and fix it.

When those results came out, we took the school district to task, but not solely because the school district needed to improve academic results. Instead, we admonished the district for the stance it took at the time.

They attributed poor scores to the fact that state and federal standards include all students, including children with special needs and those learning English as a second language. Since the tests did not differentiate between “the typical student” and those with special needs or unique challenges, test scores suffered, and the district blamed the system for those poor numbers.

While it is perfectly reasonable to attribute the method of testing to subpar scores, we felt the district failed to take accountability for the results. At no point did somebody say that something was wrong and needed to be fixed.

We bring this up not to open an old wound, but to compare that reaction to the way new curriculum director Stacy Smith responded to the 2013 district report card.

Once again, the school district received mixed reviews and Smith could have attributed it solely to the test scores of certain subgroups. But he didn’t do that.

Smith concluded that the school district struggles in three areas: writing scores, and achievement for children with special needs and English language learners.

He said, “We know there is a problem and we have got to fix it.” Another time he said, “We own this problem.”

How refreshing. How accountable. This is the right thing to say and we applaud Smith for it. Yes, the school district is struggling in certain areas, but the willingness to own the problem gives us much more faith in the ability to fix it.

It is often said that admitting a problem is the first step to correcting it. The district may still face struggles going forward, but we feel much better when its leaders take it on directly and do not assign blame and resign the results to a faulty system that they have no control over.

Who knows what the future will bring and what the next district report card will reveal, but this outward showing of accountability and willingness to take on challenges gives us more confidence in schools trending the right direction.