Firwood Elementary, Sandy Grade Schools see improvement, long upward trend in assessment scores

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Oregon Trail schools have implemented several programs to ensure student success, and state test scores would show they're paying off. While results from Oregon's Smarter Balanced assessments remain static at the state level, Oregon Trail School District continues to see an overall upward trend.

This improvement has earned the district a SchoolDigger ranking of 16th out of the 147 districts in the state, and third among Clackamas County. was founded in 2006 to help parents make informed choices about choosing a school for their children.

The company's database contains profiles of more than 136,000 schools in all 50 states, including 20 years of enrollment data, several years of test scores, crime and real estate data.

SchoolDigger uses state assessment scores from testing in English language arts, mathematics and science to rank schools throughout the state.

According to SchoolDigger, Oregon Trail outperformed 89.1 percent of districts in the state in 2017.

Across the district, teachers and administrators have worked diligently to help their students succeed.

"Oregon Trail School District's mission is to provide students access to rigorous, robust and reliable educational experiences that will prepare them for a successful future," said district spokeswoman Julia Monteith in a message to parents. "OTSD schools provide students with a well-rounded education, from the pre-kindergarten programs at Sandy Grade School to the Career & Technical Education (CTE) courses at Sandy High where new programs in digital design, computer science, and engineering will help prepare students for high-skill, high-demand, high-wage careers."

For schools like Firwood Elementary and Sandy Grade School, achieving above-average assessment scores is no small accomplishment, and both schools have made it a priority to raise their students up to the levels they're starting to see in the Smarter Balanced results.

Family affair

Smarted Balanced assesments were implemented in Oregon three years ago. Based on Common Core standards, the tests digitally assess students' knowledge retention in math, reading and science, as well as critical thinking skills by requiring students to show their work in math and complete essay questions.

"Ever since we started Smarter Balanced we have been growing every year," Firwood Principal Tara Bourland said. "Our math scores went up significantly last year in third and fifth grade."

As recently as the 2015-16 school year, only 53 percent of third-graders were meeting or exceeding state standards in math at Firwood. That was still above the state average, but only by about five percent. This past year, that number grew to 70 percent. Likewise, from 2015-16 to 2016-17, Firwood fifth-graders improved from a total of 33 percent meeting or exceeding to 51 percent.

"As a staff, we all work together to do whatever it takes to help students be successful," Bourland noted. "One of our priorities is getting students to read at grade level."

In an effort to facilitate this learning in and out of a classroom, the school staff hosts reading nights, which students can attend with their parents. The sessions get parents engaged in their children's academic lives while providing a fun family-night option.

"(Interim assessments) provide teachers the ability to give individual students immediate feedback, and the opportunity to either intervene with additional instruction or offer new challenges for those who have mastered the concept or skill," Monteith said. These assessments take many forms — written, verbal, teacher observation, or web-based adaptive assessments that quickly determine what a student knows and doesn't know in a course or content area. 

Lifelong learners

For Firwood Elementary, reading nights are only one way staff attempts to provide intervention.

At Sandy Grade School, the past three years has been a time of steady improvement, and Principal Rachael George said that's greatly because of diligence with intervention and Title I programs.

"We're really partnering on monitoring the kiddos and keeping track of where they're at," she said. "The staff has worked really hard and so have the families."

In 2010, before George's time at Sandy Grade, the school was not achieving at the state level.

The school was ranked 633 out of the 700 schools in Oregon by SchoolDigger. Now, not only is the school up to 181st place in the state, but its growth has maintained an upward trend.

"People say it takes five years to turn a school around," George added. "We've done this in three."

In 2016-17, Sandy Grade led the district in fifth-grade math with 60 percent of students meeting or exceeding. And Firwood led in both third-grade math with 70 percent meeting or exceeding, and fifth-grade English language arts with 67 percent meeting or exceeding.

"While state assessments provide important data, the results do not offer a complete picture of our students' achievement and growth," Monteith explained in her address. "To help improve learning for individual students, interim assessments are administered by teachers at intervals during instruction."

"We are actively engaging students in their learning, making sure they develop the skills and habits to be lifelong learners while building a foundation of basic content knowledge and skills," Bayer added. "We are proud of our team of teachers, counselors, and support staff for their unwavering commitment to every student who walks through our doors."

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