Oregon Department of Education testing shows the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on assessment scores.

PMG FILE PHOTO - While Tigard-Tualatin School District student assessment scores dipped statewide, they were still above the state average.Like the rest of the state, the fallout from a two-year disruption in students' lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic is reflected in statewide test scores, with dips in English, math and science for students taking the tests in both the Beaverton and Tigard-Tualatin school districts.

"We continue to be above the state average but (have) absolutely near the same drop that the state saw overall," said Sue Rieke-Smith, superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

Rieke-Smith said the school district anticipated the drop. She's not surprised with the scores, given the pandemic and students spending so much of their time at home or in hybrid classrooms at its height.

"It's a fact that students and teachers both gave it as good a go as we could under the conditions, which were challenging at best, trying to quickly stand up an online school — not just in our state, but in many states almost nationally — as well as then students trying to navigate the challenges that they were facing at home," said Rieke-Smith.

She added, "No one would disagree that in-person is the best instruction, because you come in and you are able to focus to the task at hand, which is learning and growing within your community."

Rieke-Smith acknowledged there were drops in English language arts and mathematics scores between 2019 and 2022.

While the district did perform above the state average, declines were seen in all subjects tested according to the Oregon Department of Education's 2022 state assessment results, which were released Thursday.

While 61.2% of Tigard-Tualatin students achieved proficient assessment benchmarks in English language arts in 2019, only 48.8% did so in 2022. Likewise, while 49.6% of students hit those benchmarks in math in 2019, only 35.3% did so in 2022.

As with his Tigard-Tualatin counterpart, Beaverton School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said he wasn't caught totally off-guard by the results of state testing, which dipped for his district as well.

"I think everybody expected some level of regression across, not just (for) the region, but across the country and really the world," said Balderas, noting that the pandemic was "dramatic and traumatic" for all students. While pleased that his district hit marks above many other districts as part of the 2022 assessments, Balderas said, "We are not where we want to be, nor need to be, for our kids."

"We have a lot of work to do in terms of the learning acceleration that we need to really focus on, not just in the short term, but in the years to come," said Balderas. "This has been an event that's going to take us some time to really fully recover from, especially those kids (who have) been historically underperforming — those kids who have been marginalized by our systems in the past that took even more of a dramatic hit across our country."

Beaverton students scored 54.3% proficient in English, while the state average was only at 43.6%. Likewise, Beaverton students hit 44.9% in their math scores, compared to state averages of only 30.4%.

While Beaverton's numbers are well above the state averages, as with Tigard-Tualatin, they're also down markedly from 2018-19.

The 2019 state assessment said 65% of tested students in the Beaverton School District were proficient in English language arts. The proficiency rate was 53.7% in math.

But how "real" is the drop?

Both districts noted that more students opted out of testing in 2022, particularly 11th-graders. They say that's problematic for assessing accurate scores.

Tigard-Tualatin's Rieke-Smith speculates many parents of 11th-graders felt their students were too stressed to take the test. Students can't be denied a diploma if they choose to opt out of the assessment, she pointed out.

"It doesn't tell the whole (story). We really need that 95% or better participation to get to a reliable, statistically reliable data set that says, 'Yes, with high confidence, we can say that this is how the system is performing,'" she said.

The same decline in juniors taking the assessment test occurred in Beaverton.

"We saw an unusually high number of students across the state not participate in state testing at the 11th-grade level, and in Beaverton, that was even higher," said Kerry Delf, Balderas' chief of staff. "Only about a third of Beaverton students in the 11th grade participated in state testing last spring … exceptionally low compared to previous years."

Delp noted, however, that the other grades taking the tests showed that "Beaverton students outperformed their peers statewide in every grade, every subject and almost every group of students."

Last year, Rieke-Smith directed her staff to take federal dollars to set up a formative interim assessment system known as iReady. That system lets teachers and district administrators determine where students are having successes and where they need help, predicting how students will likely do on those state summative tests.

While Balderas said viable assessment systems like iReady are helpful in determining where students are and where they need to be, he's concerned about what happens when the federal dollars used to pay for such assessment systems are no longer available, as districts try to find ways to focus on students who need additional support.

Still, Balderas said a bright spot for the Beaverton School District, which has one of the most diverse student populations in the state, is how they fared on the assessment tests.

"Some of our groups of students that are from diverse backgrounds did actually better than some other school systems, and … we're still digging through the data trying to figure out what we did differently in Beaverton to cause that, again, not to drop as much as others," said Balderas.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!