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Oregon statewide assessment data shows widespread declines in proficiency rates for English, math, science

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sabin Elementary second graders in Portland enjoy their first day back in class on Aug. 30. While Portland Public Schools didn't see dramatic declines in proficiency rates on state standardized testing, many school districts in Oregon did. UPDATED: 1:45 p.m., Thursday

Oregon's latest standardized test scores for students show a persistent lack of proficiency in English language arts, math and science that was likely worsened by the pandemic.

Education leaders say test scores from the 2021-22 school year reflect the impact of learning disruptions brought on by COVID-19. The testing data was released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education.

"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."

State leaders also acknowledged continuing gaps among Black, Hispanic and native students, with English learners trailing the farthest behind in English, math and science.

Oregon students skipped the statewide testing in 2020-21 due to the pandemic and comprehensive distance learning.

While proficiency rates have been sluggish for the past five years, last year's numbers show students in many districts fell further behind, while some showed incremental improvement.

For instance, in the rural Rainier School District in Columbia County, sixth graders went from a 21.7% proficiency rate in mathematics in 2019 to just 7.7% in 2022. The same district saw 41% of its sixth graders proficient in English language arts in 2019 but only 21.2% in 2022. The most dramatic drop was among high school juniors. Nearly 73% of them were proficient in English language arts in 2019 but only 35.1% of juniors in 2022 were considered ready for college-level English courses.

In more urban districts, like Eugene, Parkrose and Portland Public Schools, the changes from pre-COVID academic years to last year were less dramatic. In fact, PPS third and fourth graders actually saw their mathematics proficiency rates tick up by about two percentage points last year. The district's third grade math proficiency rate was 55.4%. Fourth graders posted a 51.6% proficiency rate.

While PPS fared better than many other districts, the district's top administrative staff are looking to a new curriculum, professional development for teachers and more student support services to help improve state assessment performance and outcomes for students of color.

"Let me be clear, these drops are disappointing and unacceptable, but we're focused on doing something about it," Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said Thursday morning during a media briefing.

Renard Adams, chief of research, assessment and accountability at PPS, said the district will examine what's working and what isn't.

"Every day our amazing teachers show up for students and work tirelessly to educate them. and yet still, we have these results," Adams said. "Our past practices have produced our current data, and only through an examination of our practices and subsequent adjustments, can we achieve different and better academic outcomes for our students."

Adams noted he's "energized and hopeful" that new PPS initiatives will reverse the trend of low academic performance.

PMG GRAPHIC - A bar graph shows racial disparities in the percentage of Oregon sixth graders who tested proficient in math during the 2021-22 school year. Education leaders say the state is working to address disparities in academic performance for Oregon's Black, Native and Latino students.

Notable standouts in last year's tests include Portland's Riverdale School District, which boasts more than 70% proficiency across all grades in English, math and science. Students in Lake Oswego School District had a nearly 73% proficiency rate across all grades for English, 62.7% in math and 50.5% proficiency across all grades in science—some of the highest rates in the state. Both of those districts are within some of the highest income areas in the Portland metro region. Other districts like Sherwood School District saw declines, but still maintained higher than average proficiency rates.

Statewide, students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade dropped about 10 percentage points in mathematics since 2019.

The state said it will connect with districts that saw progress and share those practices and solutions with other school districts.

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."

Gill, the state's education director, said he's confident Oregon's students can bounce back from the pandemic's impacts on education.

"While current generations in our country have not experienced learning disruptions on the scale of a global pandemic, previous generations have," Gill said. "School has been significantly disrupted by disease, natural disaster, war and other events for people in this country and others throughout history. We are resilient, if nothing else. Our students will succeed. And our teachers, counselors, bus drivers and others will be there to ensure they do."

This story has been updated with input from Portland Public Schools.

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