Molalla's lower grades struggle on state tests, while high school scores climb
Taken as a whole, Molalla River School District students performed lower on state assessments in both English language arts and math in 2018-19 compared to the previous year and compared to students statewide, according to recently released data from the Oregon Department of Education.
But there are some bright spots. Superintendent Tony Mann called the high school's scores "tremendously positive." Indeed, Molalla High School students continue to perform highly in ELA and have steadily improved in math over the last several years.
At the high school level, only 11th grade students take state assessments, making it impossible to track the progress of a particular group from year to year. Instead, the assessments simply provide a snapshot of where the school's 11th grade students are at the time of testing.
Fortunately, at Molalla High, 11th graders continue to outperform students statewide.
"While we do look at our own trend data from year to year, we also look to comparable districts and state averages to see how we stack up," said MHS Principal Brad Berzinski. "From this perspective, we continue to show very strong results at Molalla High School."
In 2018-19, 73.3 percent of students were proficient in ELA; that's 7 percentage points above the state average.
When it comes to math, in 2018-19, 46.1 percent of students were proficient, a whopping 14 percentage points above the state average. What's more is MHS's math proficiency has steadily improved over the years. It has climbed from 38 percent in 2016-17, to 42.9 percent in 2017-18, to the 46.1 percent in 2018-19.
"We are outpacing nearly every other comparison district," Berzinski said of MHS's math scores. "In fact, there are very few schools statewide that can top our math scores."
Berzinski said the math improvement is thanks to a strong focus on curriculum alignment and on instructional strategies as well as a lot of hard work from teachers and students.
At the middle school, students dipped in both ELA and math. Still, the ELA scores outpace the state average, but the math scores are another story.
Of Molalla's sixth-graders, just 24.3 percent were proficient in math; of seventh-graders, 30.6 percent were proficient; of eighth-graders, 25.9 percent were proficient. All of these percentages are below the state averages.
Molalla River Middle School Principal Randy Dalton was not surprised to see the change in scores.
"As we reimagine the middle school with providing new programming, supports, and electives, while focusing on developing a positive school culture, we will experience some fluctuations in testing scores," Dalton said.
But this year, one of the school's focuses is math.
"We will continue to work in the same vein as the high school," Dalton said, "working with their math specialist, expecting to mirror the high school's excellent improvements in math over the past several years."
Dalton said he noticed students moving from sixth to seventh grade show solid growth, but that's not so with students moving from fifth to sixth and from seventh to eighth.
"This is excellent data to have to help triangulate our practices to help accelerate the scores," Dalton said.
Middle school staff members examine curriculum and instructional methods weekly and will continue to make adjustments to lead to improvement, per Dalton.
Like at the middle school level, at the elementary level too, scores mostly took a downward turn. Grades 4 and 5 proficiency in both ELA and math fell from the previous year and are below the current state averages.
The district's high-level statement regarding assessments addresses the math scores.
"Most notably, we are concerned about student math performance in grades 4-8," the statement says. "Although scores are trending up in high school, setting a stronger mathematical foundation for our students at earlier grades is necessary.
"Having recently redesigned and launched our K-8 mathematics strategic improvement initiative, which is aligned with the work happening at MHS," the statement continues, "we expect math achievement 4-8 to shift in the right direction."
Mann told The Pioneer that he has confidence in the elementary school principals. These principals are currently working on their school improvement plans, and are taking this assessment data into consideration. They will present those improvement plans at the November board work session.
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