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Gov. Brown takes a lot of flak for delay; Buehler wants to know what the state is hiding.

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - State report card data was released last week after pressure mounted against the Oregon State Education Department who said the data would not be released until after the election. The report card data sumarizes information about students test scores, academic performance and grauation rates. Gov. Kate Brown, embroiled in a sudden political firestorm, on Oct. 24 directed her state education administrators to immediately release school performance data they intended to withhold until after the election.

The state Department of Education provided what are generally known as "school report cards" to local districts on Oct. 4, and they were told to prepare for public release of the information on Oct. 25. On Oct. 22, however, department spokesman Marc Siegel told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the release would be pushed back several weeks.

In a hastily arranged news conference in Portland, Colt Gill, the department's director, announced that Brown had asked him to release the data immediately. Gill said the change was the result of a strong backlash over the previously announced delay. His announcement came 30 minutes before the scheduled start of a news conference by Brown's chief competitor, state Rep. Knute Buehler, to address the delay.

"The governor has clearly seen from the community that people would like to see these reports now," Gill said Wednesday afternoon.

Gill said he decided in early October to delay the release of the information, which typically is released in October. He said he wasn't driven by politics or pushed by Brown to do so. He said he did reach out to Brown's staff to tell of the planned delay, and was told to move forward, but never directly talked to Brown about it. He said the delay was needed because the department hadn't yet put together a tutorial and other tools to help educators digest the data.

Gill also said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, has created an issue for Oregon. The law tracks student participation in standardized tests as one measure of success, but Oregon law allows students to opt out of such testing. The metric would unfairly penalize schools with low participation in testing, even if the school otherwise is doing well on metrics, Gill said. Finding a way to account for that took extra time and was part of the delay, he said.

"It's important we deliver the tool kits to make use of that data ... in a format that can be read by everyone," Gill said in a press conference.

Gill told reporters he was surprised by the strong public reaction to word the results would be delayed.

The state released the data just after 2 p.m. Oct. 24, allowing people to look up individual schools' performance. The format, however, doesn't provide any easy way for people to compare the schools. Such information would be released by Nov. 13, Gill said.

Several days after the release of the data The Oregonian/Oregon Live produced a database that highlights the performance of each school district and used color-coded indicators to mark how schools within each district measure up compared to state targets.

Columbia County numbers

Schools in the Scappoose School District are performing at state average for test scores in math and English and are working to address issues of chronic absenteeism, the ODE Scappoose report card and information in the Oregonian's database shows.

Superintendent Paul Peterson explained that the number of students opting out of the exams has increased since 2015, but the data still show high performance measures on the Smarter Balanced Assessments, or SBAC, testing.

"While we value the data provided through the SBAC, we evaluate student performance in conjunction with other measurement tools that give us feedback on how our students are performing," Peterson stated in part in an email to the Spotlight.

A full copy of Peterson's remarks is available here.

Data for the St. Helens School District showed a slightly different outlook, with some schools on track to meet state targets in math and English test scores, but others falling below the state average, the St. Helens report card show. The Columbia County Education Campus was reported as being in the bottom 10 percent for test scores, four-and five-year graduation rates and chronic absenteeism.

While the report cards are not available in a way that shows them in direct comparison to other schools on the ODE website, the "At-a-Glance Profile" and "Accountability Details" reports are online.

In Scappoose, the high school graduation rate was 93 percent, a 2 percent increase from the year prior, and one of the top 10 highest graduation rates in the state. The state average is 77 percent. The number of students reported to be on-track to graduate, meaning they earned one quarter of credits during their ninth-grade year, is down 7 percentage points and reported at 87 percent. The statewide average is 85 percent.

"We are pleased to see high levels of achievement throughout the district, and the SSD leadership team acknowledges that there is still more work to do to increase achievement levels for all students in all grade levels and subject areas," Peterson said.

In St. Helens, the average high school graduation rate also increased 2 percentage points, but lagged behind the state average at 74 percent. The number includes rates from the high school and alternative high school program.The number of students on track to graduate also decreased by 4 percentage points and fell below the state average at 79 percent. Superintendent Scot Stockwell noted that SBAC scores in certain grade levels were increasing, and he was encouraged to see a general trend of positive growth.

"It is the results of a quality school system pre-K through 12 grade and something we are all proud of in the district. With that said, we are all working hard to continue to raise the graduation rate while provide college and career ready graduates.

A full copy of Stockwell's comments are here.

Reporter Nicole Thill-Pacheco contributed to this story.

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