Brookings schools struggling to meet state test standards
State test results for the 2011-2012 school year are grim for both Brookings-Harbor School District students and students throughout Oregon; not enough students met the state standard.
However, Brookings-Harbor school officials will implement various programs this year to try to improve the 2012-2013 results.
"I believe the scores show that the Brookings-Harbor School District needs to improve the outcome, especially for high school, since students need to pass the OAKS test to graduate from high school," district test coordinator Helena Chirinian said.
The state test, or Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test, is the main test that students in grades three through high school take to assess their skills in Reading and Math. High school students also complete a Writing portion, and middle school students are tested in Science. The results were released earlier this month.
Students take the tests on a computer, and are asked multiple choice questions that are appropriate for their grade level. Everything from division, multiplication, addition and subtraction to geometry to reading comprehension is covered.
To meet the state standard in these subject areas, students need to either "meet" or "exceed" the standard. All students are given one of five grades after they complete the test: "exceeds," "meets," "nearly meets," "low" or "very low."
In 2011-2012, 80 percent of students who took the test did not "exceed" or even "meet," which was the state goal.
The OAKS test results are important because they assess how well students know their algebra or geometry, for example, compared to other students in Oregon, and help teachers identify which students may need extra help.
Azalea Middle School
Azalea Middle School students' scores reflect growth from the past few years, but the growth is not significant enough, Principal Sheryl Lipski said.
"Overall, in a nutshell, I think we're really pleased with our participation rates, which is great, but we need to work on more kids meeting the benchmark and exceeding it," Lipski said.
Azalea students were quizzed on numbers and operations; probability; algebra; measurement and geometry for the math portion. In the Language Arts section, students were given passages to read and then answered comprehension questions that addressed vocabulary, interpretation and analysis.
In Reading, the trend was below what the school would like it to be: just half of sixth graders, 70 percent of seventh graders and 68 percent of eighth graders met or exceeded the standards.
"What's good is, they've slowly been increasing, but slowly isn't good enough," Lipski said.
The scores have steadily increased by 2 to 6 points each year, which barely keeps up with the growth rate (5 points) the state expects a student to show each year.
When asked why scores are low, Lipski responded, "I do think that having a really renewed focus is what is helping to bring scores up."
She also said the school is working on increasing student focus and trying to teach students the value of tests, but these tests are not the "end all-be all."
To help students improve their Reading scores, on Oct. 8 a Reading Across Curriculum workshop will be held for staff in grades six through 12. In the workshop, vocabulary and critical thinking will be addressed, and staff will learn strategies that will be applied to all classes, not just Language Arts.
In Math, 60 percent of sixth graders, 50 percent of seventh graders and 53 percent of eighth graders met the standards.
All three grades scored about the same as last year.
"We had great growth the past couple of years, but now we're flatlined," Lipski said. "We want to see that growth again.
"If we align curriculum standards, have high expectations to participate, engage and learn the material, our scores are going to go up."
After the school's early release time on Wednesdays, staff are able to focus on aligning curriculum, discussing strategies that work for students, and provide extra support for students.
"We hope within the next couple of years everything will be up in the 80 percent range for meeting or exceeding," Lipski said. "It's a snapshot of, 'here's where we are, and here we are compared to students in (each) grade level in the state at the moment.' This is one piece of many things out there we can use."
Brookings-Harbor High School Principal Larry Martindale is concerned with the school's test scores.
"Our scores are in the average range," Martindale said. "We aren't doing well enough to compete in a global society. To give kids an opportunity to compete, we're going to have to do a much better job with our test scores."
In Reading, 66 percent of students met or exceeded the standard, and 45 percent did in Math.
Last year, 85 percent did in Reading, and 73 percent did in Math.
In Writing, 52 percent met the standard.
High school students were asked to write an imaginative, narrative, persuasive or expository essay for the Writing portion; to answer algebra, geometry and statistics questions in the Math section; and to read a passage, and then demonstrate understanding, interpret a passage and be able to examine content and structure of the passage through multiple choice questions on the Reading test.
Over the past five years, the school's test scores have been up and down, Martindale said.
When asked for an explanation, he said "comparing classes is like comparing apples and oranges in some regard. Some classes are really academically talented."
To address the scores, BHHS will provide more rigor in three big areas: Reading, Writing and Math, Martindale said.
On Oct. 8, staff will participate in the same reading workshop as Azalea employees.
In December, the school will focus on writing, and giving students more opportunities to write.
In the meantime, Martindale is contacting Southwestern Oregon Community College to discuss the possibility of having Writing 121, 122 and 123 taught at BHHS to improve writing skills.
Currently, every math class at BHHS is standards based, which means that each student needs to prove they know the material. Under a more traditional grading practice, a student's grade was a compilation of different areas such as homework and classroom participation, which allowed students to pass a class without necessarily mastering the material.
BHHS wants all of its classes to be standards based in two years.
Martindale also would like to offer more Advanced Placement classes for students.
The school's goal is to increase test scores by 20 points in the next couple of years.
"I have a really talented staff and I think they understand where we have to go with our curriculum ... they're working really hard," Martindale said.
Kalmiopsis Elementary School third and fourth graders scored about the same as last year, which is significant because the test difficulty was increased so that elementary school students will be more prepared for the middle and high school tests.
"The state felt it needed a more accurate predictor of how kids would do when they got to high school," Chirinian said.
Previously, elementary school students were breezing through the test, and then struggled in high school.
Chirinian attributes the good results to purposeful math education and intervention.
Fifth graders however, scored a little lower.
In Reading, 74 percent of third graders, 71 percent of fourth graders, and 61 percent of fifth graders met or exceeded the standard. In Math, 75 percent of third graders, 67 percent of fourth graders and 48 percent of fifth graders met or exceeded the standard.
"We have some work to do," Chirinian said. "We have some curriculum mismatches, especially in fifth grade math. Fifth grade will do more work that sixth-grade math has done so far. They need to know the basic operations with fractions, dividing, multiplying, adding, subtracting, all that. So we're working on it."
The elementary students were tested on numbers and operations; algebra and data analysis; geometry and measurement for Math, and on vocabulary, general understanding and interpretation after reading a short passage in Reading.
To address reading scores, Kalmiopsis will probably start an after school reading club, that will be based strictly on need, in October, Chirinian said.
She said the school uses the test results to look at a program, and identify gaps and areas of improvement.
"It's a tool for us to see where to go next and what to do," she said.
"Our goal is to graduate kids from high school. That's why we're here. They're all our kids. They need to do as well in third grade as in 11th."
Brookings-Harbor schools are in the process of switching from the Oregon Standards to the Common Core Standards. The new standards are more rigorous, and will require students to prove they know the material, rather than passing a class or grade level without necessarily mastering the material, Chirinian said.
In 2014-2015, students will no longer take the OAKS test. Instead, they will take a new standardized test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. According to the Oregon Department of Education website, "The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a collection of more than 30 states that have been working collaboratively since 2009 to develop a student assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards."
Under this new model, standards will be unified across states instead of each state having its own test.
As a result of all these changes, Oregon schools were no longer given a "Met" or "Did not meet" Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year as they did for more than a decade. ODE, along with a group of other states, applied for and received a waiver from the federal government to be allowed to look at school achievement in a different way.
Instead of essentially giving schools a pass/fail grade, schools will be evaluated based on student growth. Each Brookings-Harbor school will receive a report card in November.
"I really like the idea of the country as a whole working toward the same standards for kids because we get a more accurate picture of what students can achieve, and it will also help students who move from district to district," Chirinian said. "The more continuity students have in their standards, the more successful they'll be."