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Superintendent: School reports show effects of long recession

Just like students, schools are also due a progress report at the end of the year.

At the North Wasco County School District 21 board meeting June 12, area principals provided a series of updates on each school’s current standing.

School officials reviewed students’ state scores in reading and math, as well as provided figures on attendance and hashed out goals for improvement for the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s important for people to recognize that in light of the increased rigor and the fact that since 2007, 2008 we’ve cut back on the number of staff, this next year is the first the economy has begun to recover enough so that we’re even able to put back in place a few of the resources that are so, so needed, said Superintendent Candy Armstrong. “The public needs to recognize that for several years, we’ve been losing ground in our schools. You can’t raise the standards and lower the resources and expect good outcomes.”

The Dalles Middle School Principal Pat Consoliver reported student attendance in the last quarter of the year was rated at 93 percent, and the total number of students considered “chronically absent” was 17 percent, compared to the 28.8 percent recorded for the 2012-13 school year.

“Attendance is critical, as are having offerings that connect kids to the school and making sure the common core state standards are implemented,” Armstrong said.

According to the enrollment data submitted by The Dalles High School Principal Nick Nelson on May 31, of the 842 students currently enrolled at the main campus, 814 are considered “regular” attendees, while 6 also attend school at the main campus, but participate in an alternative program and 22 are enrolled in the district’s Virtual Academy. As of May 31, overall student attendance was ranked at about 90 percent.

According to the North Wasco Virtual Academy’s report presented by Administrator Lynden Evans at the June 12 meeting, 4.8 percent of students currently enrolled in the district participate in virtual courses. As of June 5, 115 of these were high school students and 23 were K-8.

“Since September 2013, we have provided 139 students in grades 2-12 with outstanding e-learning options,” the report states. “Our class completion success rate for high school classes is currently at 85 percent.”

The estimated success, or “pass,” rate after the close of the year for all students was estimated to be 78 percent, with many students requesting to work on their class or classes over the summer. The Virtual Academy has 22 full-time high school students enrolled for next year, nine of which will be new to the district.

“Staff continue their work on refining scope and sequence [mapping] of Common Core standards as well as other national standards,” Nelson wrote in a brief overview of the high school’s curriculum.

According to the report, 30 percent of freshmen met or exceeded state standards on the OAKS math assessment, compared to 41 percent of sophomores and 50 percent of juniors.

“It’s a culminating effect based on what skills incoming ninth graders have when they walk through the doors,” Armstrong said in relation to the freshman math and reading scores. “The high school is then put in a position where it’s responsibility is to bring those students up to meeting and exceeding, and that’s no easy task.”

“We have a reading specialist at the high school who has done amazing work over the last few years in improving students OAKS scores,” Armstrong said. “We’ve struggled more with math, but this year we also put in place a separate class that’s slowed the pace. Once we get students through the algebra course, they tend to be in better shape to pass the test, and we’ll certainly continue to focus on that.”

In reading, 61 percent of freshmen met or exceeded the standards, while 71 percent of sophomores and 69 percent of juniors did the same.

“We’ve recently adopted a new reading curriculum that we will begin implementing next year,” Armstrong said. “It will take some time for teachers to become familiar with the material enough to use it in a way that will most benefits students, but we’re confident that in the long run it will serve to strengthen students’ reading scores significantly.”

As for the middle school, 48 percent of sixth grade students met or exceeded state standards in math, compared to 49 percent of seventh graders and 67 percent of eighth graders. On the other hand, 55 percent of sixth graders met or exceeded in reading, while 74 percent of seventh graders and 73 percent of eighth graders also met or exceeded state standards.

Juniors at the high school who did not meet or exceed on either test will be assigned to specialized courses designed to provide additional “core” instruction and focus their efforts on improvement.

Students in grades 9 and 10 who did not meet or exceed in OAKS in the 2013-14 school year will have their scores ‘banked,’ but will be required to take the Smarter Balanced exams for participation. However, those sophomores who did not meet or exceed the state standards in reading will also be assigned to an “assisted reading” program next year.

Current GPA data for grades 9 through 12 indicates the majority of students falling in the middle range with 197 students earning between a 3.0-3.49, 154 a 2.5-2.99 and 149 a 2.0-2.49.

Included in the high school’s report were several goals representing the administration’s overall plan for improvement for the 2013-15 school years.

“Our prime directive,” Nelson wrote, “is to increase graduation rates over the next two years.” Each of the goals, he said, are “explicitly designed to increase our graduation rates.”

The goal labeled No. 1 on the list was increasing graduation rates to 75 percent or higher overall, as well as increase those rates in all subgroups by 10 percent when compared to 2013 graduation data.

Toward this goal, the report cites the administration’s effort to provide seniors with multiple avenues for credit recovery, as well as the move to increase student enrollment in the Expanded Options program and implementing a 6-week progress report to parents.

In a similar vein, Columbia Gorge and TDHS have collaborated to build two course offerings that will be conducted at the high school, but taught by CGCC staff. These sections, Nelson said, will be available during students’ weekly AWESOME period.

Goals 2 through 4 are aimed at having all students meet or exceed essential skills in math, reading and writing by achieving adequate state testing scores or by alternative means of assessment.

Each of these is supported by administrative measures to ensure students who are not meeting the criteria are placed in supplemental courses designed to help them improve in core subject areas.

Goal 5 is for all high school grade levels to maintain an average attendance rate of 90 percent or higher, to which end the high school increases its passing time from 5 to 10 minutes and began a weekly monitoring of unexcused absences.

Nelson cited resource challenges as one of the main barrier’s to improvement at the high school, a lacking which he states in the report resulted from “years of decline against escalating mandates.”

“We will focus our resources with best practices in mind as well as building stronger connections with all of our students while using our data to inform instruction,” he said.

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