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Reynolds has worst scores in area, despite gains in both math and language arts

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Scores on standardized tests in East Multnomah Countys three big school districts lag statewide averages. Students in the big school districts in East Multnomah County lagged behind their peers statewide on standardized tests, with only students in tiny Corbett School District doing better than state averages.

As in past years, the students in the Reynolds School District had the fewest number of students testing at grade level and on track to graduate as measured by the standardized tests in English/language arts and math.

In English/language arts, a little over one-third of Reynolds students or 35.5% tested at grade level in the 2018-19 school year, compared with more than half, or 53.5%, statewide. In math, only about one-in-five Reynolds students, or 21.1%, tested at grade level last school year, compared with 39.4% statewide.

Despite the lagging performance, Reynolds was the only one of the four East Multnomah County school districts to show an improvement in test scores in both English and math in the 2018-19 school year from the prior year.

In English, Reynolds went from 32.2% of students in the 2017-18 school year testing at grade level, to 35.5%, an improvement of 3.3 percentage points. The improvement in math was much smaller, with only a 0.3 point gain.

Reynolds did not respond to requests for comment.

PMG GRAPHIC - Local school districts lag state averages in standardized testing in math and language arts.Corbett students, once again, bested students statewide. In English, 56.6% of Corbett students "passed" the standardized tests, compared with the 53.4% statewide. In math 42.9% were on track, compared with 39.4% statewide.

In the Centennial School District, 43.1% of students hit the mark in English, a tiny decline from the year earlier and about 10 percentage points behind state averages. In math, about one-third, or 30.9%, of Centennial students made the benchmark, compared with 39.4% statewide.

Angela Hubbs, Centennial's director of curriculum and student learning, said Centennial is testing students district-wide three times per year so teachers have more current information on how their students are doing.

"This is really promising," Hubbs said. "This gives us data points three times a year instead of waiting for the once-a-year tests."

Centennial began the interim assessments in language arts last year and are starting in math this year.

The thrice yearly assessments focus especially on early literacy in kindergarten and grades one and two. Statewide standardized tests don't start until the third grade.

The area's largest district, Gresham-Barlow dipped almost three points in the 2018-19 school year from the year earlier on the language arts portion of the standardized tests. Some 48.1% of Gresham-Barlow students tested at grade level or better in language arts, compared with 53.4% statewide.

In math, 31.9% of Gresham-Barlow students hit the benchmark, a slight improvement from the prior year but below the 39.4% of students statewide that tested at grade level or higher.

Lisa Riggs, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment at Gresham-Barlow, said "we are so looking forward to the Student Success Act support. That will mean we will be nearly fully-funded."

The Student Success Act, passed by the legislature, will give schools statewide about $1 billion per year in funding starting next school year.

Riggs also said that there are some dips in test scores because new curriculum was brought on in some areas and it takes a while for teachers to use the new materials effectively.

"We are also seeing improvements in populations where we had achievement gaps," Riggs said. Those numbers have not yet been released by the state.

"We are going to continue to align in a strong, positive direction," Riggs added.

Of course, these standardized tests are just one yardstick of student achievement and cannot measure other important attributes of education such as creativity, curiosity and determination.

The state cautions in the data release that "It is important to keep this assessment information in context. This is a snapshot in time of student performance, narrowly focused on two important subjects taught in our schools.

"These assessments do not measure or reflect the breadth of student learning and well-being in our schools. They do not measure the ability of students to think critically or analytically, use technology effectively, understand civic responsibility, or demonstrate the personal management or teamwork skills we know are vital for lifelong success. These assessments also do not provide a measure of the social and emotional well-being of our students," the Oregon Department of Education explained in a statement.

One area where East County schools excel is in the percentage of students taking the tests. Statewide about 94% of students took the standardized tests. At Centennial and Corbett about 96% of students were tested and at Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds it was about 97%.

"It's important to note that more students are participating. The higher the participation, the more data we have to identify areas of statewide need," Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said in a statement.

"This data should be used to inform the state and school districts in how they target resources. It is clear improvement is needed in these two subject areas," he added.

This is the fifth year students have taken the Smarter Balanced tests based on the Common Core state standards.

Tests are scored from Level 1 to Level 4. If a student scores a 3 or 4 they are considered to be testing at grade level or better and are on track to graduate from high school and be ready for college or a career. If a student scores a Level 1 or 2 on the online test, they are testing below grade level.

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