Small size of alternative school skews appearance of Smarter Balanced results

The small and diverse population at the Arts and Technology High School can skew test results dramatically because of the number of students participating in standardized tests.

"One of the characteristics of our school is that we have a diverse population. In a small group there's always a variety of strengths and areas for growth." — Principal Saskia Dresler

This is what happened with the latest Smarter Balanced test, an assessment given to grades 3-8 and 11 at the end of the year to track college and career readiness. The results showed the alternative high school had few students who met or exceeded benchmarks.

But there's more to the story than the numbers show.

"One of the characteristics of our school is that we have a diverse population," Principal Saskia Dresler said. "In a small group there's always a variety of strengths and areas for growth."

The school only has grades 10, 11 and 12, and has less than 100 students total. For the 2016-17 Smarter Balanced test, 19 students took the test, whereas 35 students took the test in 2015-16.

In 2016-17 less than five percent of students met the benchmark in math — which means they did not receive a level 3 or 4 — while 33 percent of students in English language arts and 19 percent in science met or exceeded benchmarks. These scores are lower than the 2015-16 test results that showed 8.8 percent of students in math, 54.3 percent in English language arts and 41.2 percent in science met or exceeded benchmarks.

Besides having a smaller student population in 2016-17, Dresler says transfer students can also skew the results.

"Some enter as juniors or seniors (and) sometimes we haven't worked with them for very long before they take (the) assessment, so they might not be at their best yet," Dresler said.

There are other alternative tests students can take that are an acceptable way to show they've met the essential skills and graduation requirements, according to Dresler.

"Sometimes we have a student who moves in from another state, maybe they took the SAT, so those scores would be applied," Dresler said. "It's good because these are high standards that demonstrate appropriate rigor for college and career readiness. There are many situations where you need to have another option available at that same high standard."

Looking at math results in comparison to other subjects, Dresler attributes the low scores to the complexity and build up of math problems.

"I think overall, if you look at state scores, there's similar trends in math," Dresler said, adding that English language arts skills are reinforced in other subject areas. "Concepts build on each other in math. There's situations where it can be challenging to keep moving forward in math when other skills haven't been strengthened in students."

While these standardized tests show grade-level scores, Dresler says she is able to track individual scores so teachers can focus on each student's needs.

"We employ different strategies. Our school is designed so students have the opportunity to work more directly with the teachers (so) instruction can be more customized," Dresler said, noting their small class sizes.

She said if a particular student needs more help on math, they would be in a secondary math class as well as their primary class to help deepen their understanding and skills.  

"We are concerned and working hard with students in math to help build confidence and strong skills," Dresler said. "We are looking forward to seeing an increase in those scores this year."

While the school measures student success in other ways, with interim tests and additional assessments, Dresler says focusing on collaborative learning helps students engage more. Building partnerships with families is another critical aspect in increasing student participation in school.

"Elements of working with families (and) supporting healthy attendance are important to increasing student achievement," Dresler said. "The support and vision that all students are successful, closing opportunity and achievement gaps is critical and we are feeling that support."

Wilsonville Spokesman Reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281 ext: 112.

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