Ashland schools make the grade

Ashland schools earned high marks in a recent assessment designed to track yearly progress.

Released this week, the Department of Education report on Adequate Yearly Progress showed that Ashland High School and Ashland Middle School, in addition to the district's elementary schools, each met federally established academic benchmarks for the 2008-09 school year.

The benchmarks were set up to help schools increase their quality of education under criteria defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. The AYP assessment tracks students' performances on standard tests taken in English and math courses. It also tracks student academic standings, and school graduation rates each year.

Schools must have students meet yearly benchmarks in English and math in order to pass the assessment. Though two-thirds of Oregon schools met requirements for the 2008-09 school year, a mere 42 percent of middle and high schools reached those marks.

District superintendent Juli Di Chiro said she was satisfied with the results and felt they were consistent with Ashland's emphasis on quality education.

"We are very pleased to have made adequate progress," Di Chiro said. "It demonstrates the area's yearly improvement, and it's a credit to the district." But she also criticized the study's criteria, calling it unfair, and saying it sets an "impossible standard" for students.

"I believe it's a flawed system, one we should not be using," she said. "We need a model that tracks progress year-to-year among individuals and groups."

Rather than a system that tracks their performance based on several tests each year, Di Chiro said alternate models should be developed, applying to students over a broader range of subjects. She said math and English scores are too narrow a method of gauging capability.

Schools that do not meet yearly progress benchmarks for two straight years in the same subject are designated as "in need of improvement," and are required to improve the school's standing, or give students the option of transferring within the district.

This is the second consecutive year Ashland's schools have all met the federal criteria, and the results ensure no schools will be placed on the improvement list any time soon.

But Di Chiro said a school's results can often by misrepresented, based on the number of students that actually participate. She pointed to Walker Elementary School, which did not meet federal benchmarks in 2006-07 because several parents refused to have their children take the standardized tests.

"The current system measures this year's third graders against last year's third graders," she said. "All it tells you is how this year's class did against last year's, not whether students are improving over time."

The state has administered district AYP reports since 2002, in accordance with federal law. The full report can be viewed online from the Oregon Department of Education Web site.

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