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Newly released state testing shows distance learning hurt proficiency scores

COURTESY PHOTO 509-J - Student scores plumet, experts claim its the result of a year of distance learning.

School testing results released this week clearly demonstrate the pandemic-imposed distance learning had on education in Jefferson County and throughout Oregon.

Across the state, proficiency rates dropped about 10 percentage points across mathematics and English language arts since 2019.

These trends match nationwide data. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows reading scores across the country had the largest drop since 1990, and mathematics scores had their first ever decline.

The assessment data is not a comprehensive overview of the outcomes or scope of learning or achievement, the state education department cautioned. Rather, the tests are snapshots "designed to identify differences in student group outcomes and help improve the education system over time." Colt Gill, the state's education director, said he's confident Oregon's students can bounce back from the pandemic's impacts on education.

In Jefferson County's two largest school districts, Culver SD 4 and Jefferson County 509-J, results reflect the decrease seen across the state. Across all subjects, schools in Jefferson County performed slightly below the state average.

509-J still ran student testing in 2021, even though the state did not require it. Those numbers are not reported by the state, but Superintendent Jay Mathisen says it give him more to work towards. "We can see based on those numbers there are areas we're already seeing improvement," said Mathisen. "There are areas we went down from since then, but others we went up in, so it gives us hope, and it gives us a roadmap on what to work towards."

Education leaders say the decrease in test scores from the 2019 to 2022 school years show the impact of learning disruptions brought on by COVID-19. State testing was not reported in the 2020-21 school year, due to the pandemic.

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

English Language Arts

Districtwide, both Culver and 509-J saw drops in ELA proficiency smaller than that of the state. 509-J saw an overall drop of 7.9% and Culver saw a drop of 6.6% while the state dropped 9.8% overall.

However, at the high school level, both Madras and Culver high schools saw significant drops in ELA proficiency. While only 76% of students at MHS took the test, 33.8% of those were proficient. In 2019, MHS's rates were higher than the state at 59.8% proficiency.

At Culver High School, 93% of the students participated and 35.7% of those were proficient. This represents a drop of over 25% since 2019.

"Our scores are pretty dismal. This is a direct reflection of the negative impacts of closing schools, distance learning, and putting communities in crisis and implementing stay-at-home orders. Students need other people, several environments, and learning to thrive," said Culver Superintendent Stefanie Garber. "In Culver School District, we want every student to learn, thrive, graduate — and be ready for the world when they graduate. I question if this State Assessment System is the best way to measure the success of every student. We are not proud of the 2021-2022 assessment results but we are also not surprised given all of the circumstances."


Culver and 509-J's mathematics proficiency ratings have hovered slightly below the state average over the three years before 2019. However, this year's data places them all well under statewide proficiency rates of 30.4% for 2022.

Culver's districtwide mathematics scores dropped 12.2% since 2019, about 3% more than state numbers dropped. However, the drop in mathematics proficiency rates among Culver students stands at 22.8%, dropping from 32.5% of students being proficient in 2019 to only 9.8% showing proficiency in 2022.

At 509-J, rates dropped 17.2%. At MHS, mathematics proficiency rates dropped only 6.8%, less than the 9% averaged statewide.


The Oregon Department of Education doesn't report data for statewide science testing before 2022, so determining change due to the pandemic isn't possible. However, state data for this year shows both Culver and 509-J reporting lower proficiency ratings than the state average. The state proficiency rating is at 29.5%. 509-J reported an overall proficiency of 15.2%, and a proficiency rating of 19.4% at MHS.

In Culver, the district's proficiency rating is 13% and Culver High School's is 7.9%.

A racial divide

Across the state, students of color scored significantly lower than white students. Statewide data for 2022 shows Native students with a proficiency rating 17% lower in English and 16% lower in math than the state rates. Hispanic students also see significantly lower results, with proficiency ratings 16.7% lower in English and 15.3% in mathematics.

509-J and Culver SD 4 both have high percentages of these groups counted among their student bodies. Culver SD 4 reported a 31% Hispanic/Latino population in 2020. 509-J serves a 33% Native and 34% Hispanic/Latino population as of 2020. Statewide, Native students represent only 1.2% of students and Hispanic/Latino students represent 24%.

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