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Assessment scores show slight increases for 2015-16

Oregon students showed slightly more career- and college-ready proficiency this year than last year based on the state’s annual “Smarter Balanced” assessments of English language arts and math skills, according to results released Sept. 8 by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

While the assessments conducted last spring showed gains in many student categories, they also revealed declining readiness at some grade levels among African-American, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaskan Native subgroups. Overall, the assessments indicate a continued achievement gap between some historically disadvantaged student groups and the larger student population.

The online assessments are aligned with the Oregon Board of Education’s adoption in 2010 of Common Core State Standards. They are intended to provide a snapshot of student progress in developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills in English language arts and math.

Now in its second year, the assessment is based on tests administered to 290,000 students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade. Over 160,000 students, or about 55 percent of those tested, earned a 3 or 4 on the English language arts tests and about 119,500, or 42 percent, earned a 3 or 4 in math. Those level 3 and 4 results, on a testing scale of 1 to 4, indicate that a student is on track to be career- and college-ready.

In both tests, the number of students earning a 3 or 4 rose by 1 percentage point statewide from 2015. The highest grade-level increase was in fifth-grade English language arts, where 57 percent of students earned a 3 or 4, up 3 percentage points from last year.
    
When broken down, the new data show statewide improvements in many tested grades and student groups.

At the fifth-grade level in English language arts, 45 percent both of economically disadvantaged students and Pacific Islanders showed level 3 or 4 readiness, up 4 and 5 percentage points respectively. Asian fifth-graders also earned higher marks, up nearly 5 percentage points to 74 percent at level 3 or 4.

“What is most exciting about this year’s results is the progress made by students across the board, including those from groups that have historically performed at lower levels than their peers,” said Salam Noor, Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, in a news release.

Still, some student categories that have long struggled to meet even average achievement levels showed declines.

At third grade, just 22 percent of African-Americans showed level 3 or 4 proficiency in math, compared to nearly 25 percent in 2015. That drop contrasts with a 2 percentage-point increase in all third graders in achieving a 3 or 4 proficiency level in math, to 48 percent.

African-American eighth-graders also lost ground in math, dropping 4 percentage points to 19 percent at level 3 or 4 proficiency, compared to 42 percent of all eighth graders.

Also in math, Pacific Islanders dropped by more than 2 percentage points at both the 8th-grade and 11th-grade levels, while American Indian/Alaskan Natives dropped by 4 percentage points in both the fifth and seventh grades. In English language arts, the number of African-Americans achieving level 3 or 4 scores declined by 3 percentage points in both the sixth and 11th grades, while American Indian/Alaskan Native scores dropped by nearly 6 percentage points at the 11th-grade level.

The federal government has set a 95 percent target participation rate for all students and student groups, and Oregon barely met that standard statewide with this year’s assessment. But not all districts and schools met the goal.

Test participation is “a highly localized issue and we found it’s an unpredictable pattern,” said Derek Brown, ODE’s assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability, in a webinar tied to the data release.

ODE reported that just over 10,700 students opted out of at least one Smarter Balanced test. Those included about 9,100 “opt outs” for the English language assessment, and about 10,200 “opt outs” for the math assessment.

State officials cautioned against trying to measure Oregon’s results against those of other states conducting similar tests. A comparison could be inaccurate based on the ways different states measure participation and whether they conduct the test online or on paper, they said.

Results by grade, student group, school and district can be found here.