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State tweaks school scores in paper caper.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The Oregon Department of Education lowered the achievement bar for schools this year after testing problems last spring that may have cut some student scores.

The state released school report cards on Monday for 1,119 schools and explained that it had dropped the achievement scale down two points and the improvement scale down one point, a one-time change prompted by the testing foul-up.

The state tested 98.3 percent of all students in grades three, eight and 10. But instead of using a computerized test that students could take up to three times, the exam was a paper affair administered just once. That stemmed from a dispute with the company that provided the computer tests.

"Our schools faced considerable hardship due to the last-minute switch to paper and pencil. I am proud of what schools have accomplished during a year of great changes to the testing system," Superintendent Susan Castillo said.

The state gave schools one of five overall ratings: exceptional, strong, satisfactory, low and unacceptable.

Of the 842 elementary and middle schools rated, 18 percent did better than last year, 63 percent held steady and 19 percent were graded lower.

Of the 217 rated high schools, 25 percent improved over last year, 50 percent were the same and 16 percent did worse.

To rate the schools, the state averages the two most recent years' test scores and also considers the combined averages from two years prior to that. Schools are also judged on student attendance, and high school ratings take into account the dropout rate. The number of students who take the test also figures in. If the participation rate drops below 94.5 percent, schools are automatically ranked "low."

That consideration hit Cascade Middle School this year, pushing it to a "low" grade, despite the fact that in the separate national assessment process it was deemed to be making "adequate yearly progress," said Bethel School District spokesman Pat McGillivray.

"In reality, Cascade is a strong school, but Cascade's participation rate was 94 percent, which results in an automatic low rating," McGillivray said. "This means they were three tests short of the required participation rate, three tests away from being listed as strong."

Rather than bemoaning the grade, Cascade Middle School staff members plan to recognize the fact that the school set a record this year with its reading and math scores, outperformed a comparison group of schools in Oregon in reading and math, and outperformed state averages in writing, McGillivray said.

Many Eugene 4J district schools did well this year, said district spokesman Kelly McIver.

"We're pleased with the strong rankings, but we also always recognize that's just one measure," he said.

The district was particularly pleased with River Road Elementary School, which has maintained a "strong" score, despite the high mobility rate of its students.

"Mobility is how long they spend in any given school before they move," McIver said. "If you can keep a student in your program for a year or more, you have a good chance of moving them forward. If they move around a lot they're likely to lose focus," he said.

In Springfield, school district administrators were also noting achievements, with three schools receiving an "exceptional" grade, said Rob Hess, student achievement leader for the district. "I don't think we had any last year," he said.

He attributes the improvement to an increase in the number of students tested, and to a literacy initiative that focused on improvement.

On attendance, the statewide rate for elementary and middle schools was 94.4 percent, the same as the previous two years. High school attendance was 91 percent, a slight drop from 91.2 percent last year.

Expulsions because of weapons were down 9.5 percent to 389 incidents.

The national rankings for schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law are based on similar criteria, but under the federal procedure, schools are also held accountable for the test scores among racial and ethnic subgroups as well as students who are low-income, disabled and not proficient in English.

SCHOOL REPORT CARDS

Check individual school report cards online at www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Students were forced to abandon computerized testing midcourse, prompting education officials to adjust results
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 9, 2007
Words:699
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