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Education officials say distance learning may have played a role in proficiency results for English, math and science compared to pre-pandemic years.

PMG FILE PHOTO  - The West Linn-Wilsonville school district is still outpacing state averages, but locally scores dropped since the last assessments in 2018-2019. Recent data shows that students in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District have above average proficiency rates compared to the rest of the state, but are not on par with those in their grade levels during pre-pandemic years.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the Oregon Department of Education unveiled a snapshot of the 2021-2022 testing scores for students across the state. The yearly assessment, also referred to as Smarter Balanced testing, is designed to identify trends in the testing scores of specific student groups and grade levels, which in turn helps school districts target learning gaps in the next academic year. Students in third through eighth grade, as well as eleventh graders, are tested.

Across the state, the test scores showed a persistent lack of proficiency in English/language arts, math and science that was likely worsened by the pandemic and distance learning. Officials reminded people that the testing assessment is not a comprehensive reflection of education outcomes for students, as not every student in each grade level participates in school testing.

Although the test is required by state and federal law, families can file for an exemption. In West Linn and Wilsonville, an average of 87% of students completed the examination — among the highest participation rates in the state.

What do the numbers say?

Across the board, students in all grade levels in the district averaged a 58% proficiency in English/language arts and a 46% median in math. Only fifth, eighth and eleventh graders take science testing, and the students averaged a 45% proficiency.

Test scores are unavailable for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing schools. But the last documented assessment, 2018-2019, shows that students' scores have dropped significantly.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, 72% of students across the district's grade levels tested as proficient in English/language arts. In math, the proficiency level for all grades was 59%. Science was not part of the testing in 2018-2019.

For the most recent academic year, the district's lowest scores were seen among eleventh graders at Wilsonville High School. The students scored a 14% proficiency rate in math — though just 60% of the student body participated. In comparison, eleventh graders at West Linn High School averaged a 43% score in the same subject, with 40% of the cohort taking the assessment.

Hits to reading, writing and math skills were significant among elementary school students. According to Oregon Department of Education data, students showed the lowest scores in all subjects in the past six years. Boeckman Creek Primary School's fourth grade class demonstrated a 28% proficiency rate in English/language arts and 24% in math. In 2019, the former fourth grade cohort averaged 54% proficiency in English and 62% in math.

While fifth graders from Boones Ferry Primary School averaged 3% proficiency in math and 29.5% in science for the last academic year, previous data from 2018-2019 shows students at an almost 60% proficiency level for English/language arts, while 48% of students had a basic understanding of math.

However, the highest scores last year were also seen at a primary level. Third to fifth graders at Bolton Primary accumulated promising numbers in English/language arts, with 79% scoring as proficient (an improvement over the 75% figure seen in 2018-2019.

Students at Sunset Primary School ranked highly in the state for their English/language arts scores. Fifth graders showed 81% proficiency in the subject, with nearly every student participating.

Arts and Technology High School, the former third-option high school in the district that serves students with various learning needs, did not participate in the statewide testing.

What's causing the learning loss?

Education leaders said test scores from the 2021-2022 school year across Oregon reflect the impact of learning disruptions brought on by COVID-19.

"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. "As expected, the pandemic had an impact on learning in Oregon and across the country."

According to statewide data, students in elementary school averaged 42% proficiency in English/language arts proficiency and 35% in math. Middle schoolers averaged 43.5% in English and hovered just under 28% in mathematics. Eleventh graders scored 46% in English, with a 20% average in math.

Gill said he's confident students can bounce back from the pandemic's educational impact.

"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."

Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said that since this is the first set of testing that has taken place since pre-pandemic years, there are several factors the district took into consideration when reviewing data.

Those included: students' lack of familiarity with new OSAS testing, varied participation rates and disruptions to the learning process due to COVID-19.

"While our district scores are approximately 10-20 percentage points higher than the state average in the majority of content areas and grade levels, we are always looking for trends, themes and areas where we need to focus for further improvement going forward," Ludwig said.

The superintendent added that school staff and district learners use the Measures of Academic Progress interim assessments and other formative assessments that take place regularly to identify students' current skill levels and "next level" of readiness.

"The goals of OSAS (state) summative assessments are to improve district-wide systems of curriculum and programs and applied instructional methodologies, not evaluate individual students," Ludwig said.

The district will use the recent data as a baseline as it moves forward.

"It's also important to remember that any summative assessment is a snapshot in time of how student groups performed in the three content areas, and not necessarily a measure of our students' broader academic abilities — (for example), social sciences, arts, technology, engineering, world languages, research and inquiry — or needed support," Ludwig said.

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