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Overall district and high school scores on assessment remain above state averages, elementary math scores keep rising

ST. PAUL — It was mostly good news for St. Paul when the Oregon Department of Education released the results of the 2016-2017 Smarter Balanced state assessment Sept. 14.

Not only did St. Paul high school and middle school students once again comfortably outstrip state averages, but elementary math performance improved for the second consecutive year.

"Overall, I'm really pleased with the continued growth that we're showing," Superintendent Joe Wehrli said. "I think just maintaining our focus on the areas that we have put extra resources is going to yield positive results."

St. Paul Elementary, which is K-6, also saw the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency in English language arts (ELA) rise from 46.8 to 54.7 percent, but that was more of a bounce back after 56.6 percent passed (by scoring a 3 or a 4) in 2014-2015, the first year the Smarter Balanced assessments were used.

The elementary school's rate in science fell from 56.3 percent to 50.0, but was still well above its performance in 2014-2015 (33.3). Only fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students are tested on science, while grades 3-8 and 11 are tested in both math and ELA.

Still, the results at the high school, which represent the end goal of proficiency by graduation, remained well above state averages, especially in English, where 90.5 percent of St. Paul juniors passed compared to 69.4 statewide. St. Paul posted a passing rate of 80.0 percent in 2014-2015 before jumping to 92.0 in 2015-2016.

St. Paul High School's performance in math and science has also been steady the past three years, with 47.6 percent passing in math and 72.7 in science. The math rate was down 0.4 percent from a year ago, while science rose from 64.0. Both well exceeded their state averages of 33.9 and 56.0, respectively.

As a district, St. Paul also continued to best state averages in all three subjects, as 51.7 percent passed in math, 61.7 in English and 66.7 in science. State averages were 40.8, 53.6 and 61.4 percent, respectively.

Wehrli knew this year's results would be significant simply for the fact that they represent the third year of data from the Smarter Balanced test.

"Whenever you can get three or more data points, you can start making some pretty confident decisions around performance," Wehrli said. "I really do believe the Smarter Balanced is a good summative assessment because it is aligned with the Common Core, which does give us the guidance for our instructional programs."

Because St. Paul is so small, Wehrli prefers to use the Smarter Balanced data to calculate median growth by grade level and said the district is beginning to use those figures for its interim evaluations.

"Our goal, obviously, is to show one year's growth, but in some areas at the elementary (level) we've been able to get 1.2 or 1.3 years growth, which is really awesome," Wehrli said. "I'm going to keep pushing on that and the teachers seem to be liking that concept. It's just another way to measure."

For example, Wehrli pointed to fifth- and sixth-grade math scores, which were above state averages yet lower than the district's seventh and eighth grades, but rose significantly more in terms of median growth.

"That's really encouraging to me," Wehrli said. "That shows me that those kids, by the time they're eighth and 10th graders they're going to be performing on the high end as well."

Wehrli said the district is directing resources toward elementary reading and writing this year, including a new English language arts curriculum and the addition of two bilingual instructional assistants, in hopes of raising those scores to match the growth seen in math.

"Our focus is reading and math at the elementary (school) because those are just such core subjects for all areas," Wehrli said. "Fluency in reading is really a key for us."

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