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Education officials say distance learning may have played a role in proficiency results for English, math and science compared to pre-pandemic years

Despite Lake Oswego students outperforming most of the state with their 2021-2022 testing scores, the school district still saw a dip in English, science and math proficiency compared to prior years.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the Oregon Department of Education unveiled a snapshot of the 2021-2022 testing scores for students across the state. The yearly assessment, also referred to as Smarter Balanced testing, is designed to identify trends in the testing scores of specific student groups and grade levels, which in turn helps school districts target learning gaps in the next academic year. Students in third to eighth grade, as well as eleventh graders, are tested.

Across the state, the test scores show a persistent lack of proficiency in English/language arts, math and science that was likely worsened by the pandemic and distance learning. Just 43.6% of all Oregon students tested as proficient in English/language arts, while 30.4% were found to be proficient in math and science proficiency came in at 29.5%.

Lake Oswego's numbers were significantly better, with 72.8% of all students testing as proficient in English/language arts, 62.7% in math and 50.5% in science. However, the percentage for English/language arts and math were lower than the last time the state released test result statistics for the 2018-2019 academic year. In 2018-19, 83.7% of Lake Oswego students were found to be proficient in English/language arts, while 73.4% were proficient in math (science was not included in the 2018-2019 testing results).

"The latest Smarter Balanced test scores confirm what we already knew: In-person school makes a difference. Students grow and develop the greatest when learning in the supportive and rigorous environments of our schools," Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Schiele said to the Review.

Education officials also reminded citizens that the testing assessment is not a comprehensive reflection of education outcomes for students, as not every student in each grade level participates in school testing.

The test being required by state and federal law but a family can file for an exemption. In Lake Oswego, an average of 93% of students completed the examination — among the highest participation rates in the state, according to state data.

What do the numbers say?

Overall, Lake Oswego had some of the highest proficiency rates in the state for English/language arts, math and science.

Among the specific standouts in the school district is Palisades World Language School. The school's reading and math scores outperform both the district and state averages, though the percentages are impacted to some degree by the school's relatively small student population.

Palisade students' science scores averaged 95% proficiency (only fifth graders were tested in science). In comparison, English/language arts hovered just under 89%, and math came in at 83% of third, fourth and fifth graders exhibiting proficiency in the subject.

Test scores are unavailable for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing schools. But the last documented assessment, in 2018-2019, shows that students' scores have dropped.

Across the board, Lake Oswego elementary students averaged a 76% proficiency in English/ language arts — roughly 7% lower than the elementary average of 83% in 2018-2019.

Some of the district's lowest scores were seen at Lakeridge High School, with data showing a lack of proficiency in science and math compared to previous years. This year's science scores showed a 30% proficiency in the subject (in previous years, students were not tested in science). Sixty-eight percent of Lakeridge students were proficient in English/language arts, and 40% tested as proficient in math.

Math scores for high schoolers across Lake Oswego rang in at 39%, compared to 2018-2019's scores at 44%. English Language Arts showed a more positive light at 69% proficiency but still low compared to previous years.

Middle schools also saw a drop in numbers compared to previous years. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Lake Oswego Middle School averaged 64% proficiency across all subjects (compared to 79% in 2018-2019, when science wasn't tested), while Lakeridge Middle School students averaged 61% in all topics (compared to 77% in 2018-2019, sans science).

"While LOSD scores are the highest of all large comprehensive K12 school districts in Oregon, we have higher expectations for our work," Schiele said. "We continue to strive for educational excellence through equitable academic outcomes. We compare ourselves to school districts in the state and country, and we look forward to being able to review national test scores, when available, for further insight."

Harmony Academy, a high school based in Lake Oswego that educates youth overcoming substance use disorders, did not participate in the statewide testing.

How does the school district plan to boost numbers?

Education leaders say test scores from the 2021-2022 school year reflect the impact of learning disruptions brought on by COVID-19.

"The assessment results are a call to action for Oregon to keep advancing the programs we know meet our students' needs," Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, stated in a news release about the testing data. "As expected, the pandemic had an impact on learning in Oregon and across the country."

Schiele said that alongside the testing assessment, the school district is provided a glimpse into students' academic scores in specific subjects through other yearly elementary and middle school diagnostic assessments. These are intended to help teachers gain a "laser-like focus" on a student's strengths and areas for growth, allowing them to personalize learning and monitor their progress throughout the academic year.

"We appreciate all assessments, including Smarter Balance, while help inform where we need to focus out work. Assessment feedback helps us identify skill deficits and determine what students need," Schiele said.

In addition to formative assessments, Schiele said the AP, SAT and ACT testing processes provide insight into performance levels for all high school students. All of these testing assessments help the school district map out where students are thriving and areas where they need more help.

"For students who need additional support, we provide differentiated instruction and interventions through the Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS), which is being implemented and strengthened in all of our schools," Schiele said. "We are confident that scores will improve as we have more time with our students in the classroom."


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