Madras schools continue upward trend
Smarter Balanced state test scores are out, and while some individual numbers have dropped for Jefferson County 509-J School District, the district's overall numbers have continued a several year trend of increase and the district is looking forward to continuing that trend.
"I think it's two years in a row where, as an entire district, we have moved forward," said 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall.
While 509-J is still lagging behind other Central Oregon districts such as Crook County, Bend-La Pine, close neighbor Culver and the Redmond district, the improvement is what Parshall said they are looking for.
The combined percentage of students, from every grade in the district who took the English language arts test is sitting at 38%, up 1.8 percentage points from the 2017-2018 school year, and 26.4% tested proficient in math, up 3.4 percentage points from 2017-2018.
Overall numbers from other districts in the area are down.
Crook County sits at 54.4% in English language arts, a 1.5 point decrease from 2017-2018, and dropped 0.2 points in math to 38% proficient. Redmond's overall numbers dropped slightly as well, from 55% in English language arts in 2017-2018, to 52.8% proficient in 2018-2019. The district lost 2 percentage points in math within the same time period, landing at 42.2% proficient for 2018-2019.
Bend-La Pine Schools shows a 1.5 point drop in the newest English language arts numbers, with 60.7% of students reported as proficient. The district also dropped 1.7 points in math, leaving them at 49.4%.
Culver School District's overall numbers show the biggest drop in the area.
The district sits at 51.1% of students with a proficient score in English language arts, a 5 point drop from last year, and 35.1% of students proficient in math, a 5.1 point drop from last year.
Efforts to reach Culver School District officials for comment were unsuccessful.
JCSD has a history of not having the highest scores when it comes to state testing, but Parshall said the growth is proof that their plan to change that reputation going forward is working.
"We are really aware of our historically low assessment scores, but we are very proud of our continued improvement over the last two years," he said.
"I think the year ahead of us we will see the biggest gains of the three years," Parshall said.
Not every number in the district went up, however. The Madras High School's English and language arts score dropped 9.3 percentage points from the 2017-2018 year to 2018-2019.
Parshall said the Smarter Balanced exams are rigorous and with the English language arts exam, there are several things that could add to a drop like that. The test is designed to purposefully be that rigorous as a way to bring students skill level up so they are prepared for rigorous course work in college.
What is different about the English language arts exam, is the fact that half of the standards for the test are taught in English classes, while the other half of the standards are taught in social studies classes.
Parshall said that now the question is centered on what they can do to better teach literacy across the entire school, not only in those respective classes.
He said the way the exam is structured, many of the answers are written in short essay form, so if a student struggles with writing, they may not do well on the test.
The incremental growth in the overall numbers indicated to Parshall that several things they are doing in the district are working. He mentioned late-start Mondays, where students don't show up until a little after 9 a.m. On those days, he said teachers spend time working with other teachers in small teams to develop sets of standards that every student should learn.
They also spend time figuring out how to implement those and common ways of identifying if a student has learned the standards. From there, they discuss how to address kids who maybe didn't learn something the first go-around and how they can instruct the student going forward. At the same time, they think about how to address the students who have already learned something and how to keep them challenged while still helping students who may not understand yet.
"What we are doing is proven to help schools and teachers have success," Parshall said, adding that this type of planning is specifically important to districts, like 509-J, which have previously lagged behind.
He said much of the reason there are some increases happening is thanks to the teachers who work hard at those methods, the students who give the exams their best shot, and their families.
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