Trying to make sense of school test scores

By The Curry Coastal Pilot September 14, 2011 11:08 am


The headline in the Sept. 10 issue of the Pilot was harsh but true: “One Brookings school passes, two fail state test.”

But are the state test results that prompted the story a true indication of what’s happening in Brookings schools?

This year’s Oregon Assessment of Knowledge andā€ˆSkills (OAKS) test scores show that elementary school students didn’t meet math standards.


But wait, school officials say, that doesn’t mean they did worse, because the level considered acceptable was raised.

So it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean?

Time and again, we see reports of new state and federal test scores, ratings and more about our schools.

But there’s almost always an administrator’s accompanying comment explaining why they don’t mean what they seem to mean, because of some change or other extenuating circumstance.

That makes it hard for taxpayers to judge how their money is being spent and parents to judge how well their children are learning.

Educators say there are lots of reasons for the difficulty, ranging from federal mandates to badly designed tests to changing notions about what constitutes educational success.

Additionally, if you want to see how Oregon students rank against students from around the nation, it gets harder still. There is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but it’s given to only a sample of students around the country.

Fortunately, there is hope, in the form of a nationwide initiative called Common Core State Standards, launched in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The idea is to establish a nationwide set of standards about what students need to learn at each stage, and to create assessments to measure how well they do.

Nearly all the states in the nation have signed on, including Oregon. Spring 2015 is targeted for the first testing.

Even if all goes as well as we can imagine, 2015 won’t be the end of adjustments to standards and tests. It will take time to implement the necessary curriculum changes and evaluate the tests’ effectiveness.

But it’s impressive and we are hopeful that this movement comes not from a federal mandate, but from organizations that represent the many states.

And for taxpayers and parents, it is likely to provide long-needed, real comparisons to help us understand how our schools, and our children, are doing.

— Curry Coastal Pilot & The (Bend) Bulletin