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D21 improves state scores

Four of the seven public schools in North Wasco County are at or above state standards, according to a recent statewide report card.

Three of the seven are falling short of state standards, but all three have seen improvement from last year, and one has seen marked gains.

While Chenowith Elementary School got a mid-level 2 score (with 5 being the top score) it gained a full level in one year, an achievement the state didn’t expect, Principal Anne Evans said.

The other two schools falling below the statewide standard were Col. Wright Elementary, which got a mid-level 2 and The Dalles Wahtonka High School, which got a mid-level 3.

Compared to the state as a whole, the high school fell below the state average, but when stacked up against comparable schools demographically, it was about average. Schools that are currently “meeting” or “above” state requirements are Dry Hollow Elementary (high Level 4), The Dalles Middle School (low Level 4), Mosier Community School (high Level 4) and Mosier Middle School– the only one to achieve an overall Level 5 rating in District 21.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, schools with an overall solid rating of 4 or 5 are above the state average, while those at the low end of Level 4 are considered average and those rating 3 and under below average.

In terms of Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs), any school receiving a Level 4 or better in achievement meets the standards, while a high school that receives a Level 3 or better in graduation rates also meets corresponding AMO standards.

“One of the biggest factors for us is we’ve lost over 30 licensed teachers since 2008,” District 21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong said in a discussion on the new rankings.

“With expectations and standards having increased, there’s been more and more pressure on staff to make sure students are making significant growth while we’ve essentially had to try and do more with less. We’re still behind in terms of where we were in 2008, and that’s one of the toughest parts for us; larger class sizes and limited elective offerings are reflective of that challenge.” Last year, the state identified a group of “focus” and “priority” schools under the state’s new accountability model. At that time, Chenowith Elementary was given a Level 1 rating and became a “priority” school.

“In terms of our priority [Chenowith] and focus school [Colonel Wright], we are really under a lot of pressure to make students who are behind make significant growth,” Armstrong said.

“On the other hand, when you look at Dry Hollow, it’s very close to being a five. When you look at the new growth model, you’re not going to get a very good sense of what the reality is for each student. The reality is that it’s actually okay so long as each school makes the normal range of growth each year.”

According to the state’s original redesign announcement, schools designated as focus or priority schools are in the lowest performing margin with the highest poverty rankings in the state. Since receiving these designations, each has been provided with additional funding and support to boost student success.

“This goes back to the whole focus on the P3 movement,” Armstrong said, “which emphasizes how important it is that students be ready to enter school and start learning with the rest of the class their very first day, because when they’re not it puts a lot of pressure on the system to get kids ready to be there and makes it a lot more challenging to get them to a place where they’re likely to graduate on time.”

Evans, Chenowith’s principal, said she is “incredibly proud” of the advances the school has made just within the last year.

“We don’t always like what we see at first, but we have to be honest about the results and recognize where we are doing well and where we’re not,” she said.

“For schools like ours, I think the main area [of the report cards] that people should focus on is the one dedicated to academic growth. If you look at that section, you’ll see that our school shows the most overall growth achievement in the entire district. This time last year we were at a Level 1 in reading, and now we’re a Level 3,” she said.

“Math is where we’re focusing hardest right now to improve. But basically, what this means is that in the year where the state said we were just supposed to be in the planning stages, we ended up improving an entire level— something the state certainly didn’t expect us to do.”

“If we can continue this kind of momentum,” Evans said, “we hope to achieve model school status [a Level 5 designation] in five years. I know that’s a gigantic thing to shoot for, but we ask our kids to make big goals and take those same risks in order to make progress, so we intend to be courageous in the same way and keep working hard to become better and better.”

Neighboring school districts have also been using a range of strategies in order to get students ready to meet state requirements and improve past scores, and many have seen their efforts pay off.

Jack Henderson, superintendent of the Dufur School District whose high school was designated as a Level 4 this year, said, “There have been pretty good gains at [Dufur High School] over the last year in mathematics, and our writing scores were shown to have improved by 17 percent.”

He said that this is the second year Dufur has been offering scheduled “enrichment time” involving a 38-minute period in which students have the option to focus on common core areas in math and writing. Dufur’s 5th-8th graders are also now required to take two math and two language arts courses in the effort to “promote deeper understanding of these core subjects.”

Bill Blevins, principal of Sherman Jr. and Sr. High School (also rated a Level 4), said he was proud to note that in this year’s report card the school showed a 92 percent graduation rate, in addition to improved reading, math, and writing, which leapt from 52 percent meeting state requirements to 75 percent.

“What I’ve really noticed makes a difference,” Blevins said, “is how we take advantage of our size. Because we’re such a small school, we can really focus on individual kids and provide support for those who have fallen behind.”

At Sherman Jr. and Sr. High, weekly grade checks allow teachers and administrators to keep track of student progress and “stay on top of things.”

Students who aren’t passing their classes are required to attend two-hour tutoring sessions focused on the material they’re struggling with. Other schools in the area are using similar tactics to further develop students’ knowledge of required areas.

The Dalles Middle and High schools as well as South Wasco County High in Maupin have introduced additional “core support” classes into the curriculum to focus on improving in those areas which most challenge students.

For The Dalles High School, Principal Nick Nelson says this has meant having students double up on core support courses like those offered at Dufur and South Wasco High Schools, with the addition of support courses offered during the Wednesday morning “Awesome” period. In South Wasco County, they call these supplemental focus classes “collaboration courses,” in which students who are not acquiring the skills necessary to pass grade-level standards are given access to additional instruction and support.

“We’ve done some great things as a result of the changes we made to our reading program over the last couple years. It was nice to see those changes pay off and the gains we’ve made represented in the new report cards,” said Ryan Wraught, Superintendent of the South Wasco County School District, whose high school received a Level 4 designation this year.

“We’ve known that writing and math are definitely areas in which we can improve, but from what I understand, that’s true for most schools across the state.”

In addition to the main report cards that are distributed to parents by local school districts, further information is available online. The state provides a report that includes more information on the various rating components as well as the Chalkboard Project, which will host an interactive online version of the report cards and will be available on the Open Books Project website beginning in November.

The state report cards available online at: http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx.

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