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Newberg's state test scores decline across the board; superintendent says much work remains

Mirroring the statewide trend in 2016-2017, the Newberg School District's performance dropped in all three subjects on the Smarter Balanced state assessments this past school year.

The biggest drops came in English language arts (ELA), where the percentage of Newberg students who rated as proficient (earning a score of 3 or 4) fell from 60.1 in 2015-2016 to 55.9 last year, and in science, where 62.1 percent passed in 2016-2017 compared to 66.8 percent the year before. PMG FILE PHOTO - Overall, scores at Newberg High School, where only 11th-grade students are tested by the state, were steady in 2016-2017, with slight improvements in math (up 1.3 to 36.9 percent) and science (up 1.4 to 50.1), but a small drop in English (down 1.0 to 72.4).

The district's scores in math slipped slightly from 43.7 percent to 42.2, but they remained above the state average of 40.8. Despite the drops of 4.2 and 4.7 percent in ELA and science, respectively, Newberg's performance still exceeded state averages (53.6 and 61.4).

"No one in the Newberg School District is satisfied with the current Smarter Balanced performance data," Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza stated in a release sent to parents and posted on the district website. "That said, our system has many indicators and factors it uses to determine how our students are performing and growing.   We have known that based on this assessment of the Oregon standards, our patterns of achievement and growth indicate achievement gaps for some of our student populations and underachievement in a number of areas."

The biggest of those gaps was among English learners, as 7.9 percent of those students passed in English and 7.2 percent in math, while economically disadvantaged students scored as proficient at rates of 41.9 and 29.6 percent, respectively. Latino students in the district, especially, lagged behind their peers, with 36.4 percent passing in English and 21.2 percent in math, compared to rates of 61.1/48.3 for white students and 78.9/63.4 for Asian students.

While the drop in performance last year was disappointing, LeBlanc-Esparza noted in the release that the data from the previous two years was already a concern for the district and she laid out several of the measures it has taken as it strives to improve.

That includes changes in leadership aimed at better matching the strength of administrators with areas of need at six of its schools, adopting new language arts curricula, and obtaining a data dashboard to aid in analysis. The district also made an investment in instructional facilitators to better support teachers, though several of those positions were eliminated for the 2017-2018 school year after the district encountered an enrollment shortfall of about 100 students, which forced it to cut $1.53 million from the budget.

"Our three district priorities of All Means All, 21st Century Teaching and Learning, and Collective Responsibility for all students is aimed at directly improving outcomes for our students," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "Over the past two years our educators have been a part of in-depth professional development around serving students of poverty, meeting the needs of English language learners, effectively teaching students in the 21st century, and addressing the increased academic rigor in the Common Core."

Overall, scores at Newberg High School, where only 11th-grade students are tested by the state, were steady, with slight improvements in math (up 1.3 to 36.9 percent) and science (up 1.4 to 50.1), contrasting a small drop in English (down 1.0 to 72.4).

LeBlanc-Esparza also stressed that there have been many positive indicators that the high school is progressing in its work to prepare students for college and careers. Specifically, she highlighted the school's recent efforts to better support student mental health, the addition of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program and the expansion of career and technical education programs.

Despite the numerous areas of progress, the superintendent recognized that the challenge facing the district is clear and that it must continue to focus its efforts to improve student performance and eliminate achievement gaps.

"In the Newberg School District, we are not shying away from our data and the work we need to do to help all students succeed," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "We are looking at our patterns of achievement, asking hard questions, partnering with our community, collaborating on solutions, and engaging in work to improve our performance, thus the performance of our students."

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