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New test aims at meeting state goals

Numerous changes at North Wasco County School District have been made in the last year in response to the ambitious “40-40-20” goal set by the Oregon legislature in 2011.

Gov. John Kitzhaber describes the “40-40-20” goal as the North Star of educational achievement. Senate Bill 253 was passed in 2011 to set the ambitious goal at 40 percent of Oregonians attaining a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent attaining an associate’s degree and 20 percent obtaining a high school diploma by 2025.

One of the ways the district has chosen to coordinate school efforts to meet these goals was by forming the Achievement Compact Committee, which brought its updated, third year report to the School District 21 Board on Feb. 13.

According to The Dalles High School Principal Nick Nelson, more refinements have been made to make the process more valid over the last year, with particular interest now being paid to preparing for the switch to Smarter Balance testing in the upcoming 2014-2015 school year.

“Data from the state’s measures for student achievement will drive classroom instruction, refinements and enhancements, and better align our curriculum between schools,” he said. “It will also help with resource allocation and in creating high-impact interventions.”

“We’ve been working really hand-in-hand with Columbia Gorge Community College to offer more opportunities for high schoolers to access college-level coursework,” Nelson said. “And at the middle school level, we’re really focused on ways to improve eighth grade math scores.”

In 2013, full-day kindergarten, one of the main “benchmarks” set by the state for ensuring increased student success, was implemented at Chenowith Elementary School. New efforts in this area include the district’s recent purchase of four modular buildings to be installed at Chenowith and Dry Hollow Elementary Schools over the summer, which will allow both schools enough space to “accommodate the needs of their respective student populations.” Colonel Wright Elementary is already projected to launch its two-section all-day kindergarten program in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

The Achievement Compact Committee, which is comprised of nine district employees and two support staff, functions as a “forum in which teachers and educators from across the education spectrum can come together to share their knowledge” and “potential problem-solving ideas.”

One of the biggest challenges the district faces, according to Nelson, is to “align what we’re teaching our kids with the higher cognitive challenge associated with Smarter Balanced,” the new assessment test that will replace the currently used OAKS next year.

While the new tests will remain un-timed, there will no longer be “as much of a reliance” on multiple choice questions. Instead, taking a sample reading question geared towards fifth graders as an example, Smarter Balanced will often include a text portion, with empty boxes alongside to provide enough space for students to answer more “open-ended” questions to the best of their ability.

The committee’s next steps will be to add another goal to their agenda, this time “addressing (the district’s) technology infrastructure and hardware needs” necessary to support the transition to Smarter Balanced, as well as the training required to conduct the new test effectively. The committee is due to report back to the school board concerning progress on its current goals in April.

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