Medford has good news to report from newly released achievement data on Oregon’s Smarter Balanced Assessments: Students in all combined grades, across all three subjects of math, science and English language-arts, showed improvement.
“Overall, I’m impressed,” said Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate, “and I think we’ve done a good job.”
Medford saw the second-highest improvement among Jackson County school districts in English language arts, showing a 2.4 percent improvement in students who tested as “proficient” or higher. It also snagged the second-highest gain in the county in math, jumping by 1.4 percent, and in science, Medford saw a 1.1 percent higher amount of students who tested proficient.
The 2017-2018 data widens the edge Medford has over statewide rates in each subject across all grades. Statewide, 40.5 percent of students tested proficient in math, 60.2 percent in science and 54.9 percent in English language arts. Medford hit 42.9 percent in math, 69.9 in science and 57.9 percent in English language arts.
The Oregon Board of Education in 2014 chose the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the standard assessment for students. It includes a mixture of multiple choice, short- and long-answer questions, some of which have more than one right answer. Tests are administered on computers but have to be scored in part by people.
Oregon students take the tests once yearly in grades three through eight and again, one final time, in the 11th grade.
Ashland School District, which continued its pattern of posting the strongest scores in Jackson County across all grades, nevertheless saw losses last year in every subject. In English language arts, proficiency was 1.2 percent lower at 72.4 percent overall; in math, proficiency saw a 2.7 percent loss at 61.2 percent and science proficiency fell by 3.6 percent, to 76.8 percent.
Laurie Rooper, Ashland’s director of human resources and communications, said she didn’t view the declines as overly concerning.
“When I look at these numbers, I don’t really see them as significant drops,” said Rooper.
“We continue across the board to be above the state average. We’re always looking to do better and I think these numbers just sort of help us with that.”
Rooper said the district would examine the data internally to “do a variety of things and set our priorities as a district.”
Results were mixed among Jackson County’s other school districts. Eagle Point saw slight gains in English language arts and math but lost ground in science. Central Point dropped in all categories: down 0.2 percent in science, down 5.6 percent in math and down 2.9 percent in English language arts.
Lumping together third and 11th-graders’ test results, however, doesn’t yield much actionable insight for those in the classroom. School district employees are now examining the information broken down by subject, grade and school to determine what went well — and what didn’t — in the last year.
South Medford High School showed the biggest improvements in the Medford district in two subjects, with a 10.6 percent gain in English language arts and 10.2 percent gain in math. It needed to make up some ground after falling behind the previous year, but Principal Donnie Frazier nevertheless called the results a “celebration.”
“We firmly believe that what you pay attention to, improves,” he said. “And this is one of the ways we are measured publicly, as a school. So we pay attention.”
He said that teachers are still adjusting to teach for the Smarter Balanced standards, after decades of working with different tests.
Assessment results are also opportunities to measure student achievement and check if historically disadvantaged groups are achieving at the same levels as their peers.
Medford district leaders, for example, specifically examine the achievement rates in high-poverty schools. Among those, Jefferson Elementary’s results stand out.
Jefferson’s “free and reduced lunch” percentage as determined by the state is listed at 81.93 percent. Even so, in every grade, Jefferson students scored higher than the overall state marks.
Principal Shelly Inman said that teacher relationships and deliberate efforts to involve parents in the school environment help students who may come from challenging backgrounds to nonetheless achieve.
“I feel strongly that at this age, kids should love coming to school and school should be a place where they’re excited to be,” Inman said. “And parents just talking to their kids about what’s happening during the day makes a huge impact on the kids’ view of school.”
Even with the higher numbers, Inman said, she and Jefferson’s teachers will continue to try to close the gaps in achievement.
“We’re saying, who are those students, what do they need to know, what growth did they make, where are they at in their learning needs?”