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Oregon students’ math, reading skills plummet post-pandemic, new state test results show

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(Update: Adding Crook County news release, Breese-Iverson call for Gill to resign)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The math, reading and writing skills of Oregon students have plummeted in the wake of the pandemic and the school disruptions that came with it, state education officials said Thursday.

Testing from spring 2022 shows students who were already behind before the pandemic had the most learning loss, but all children overall lost ground when compared to spring 2019 test scores, Oregon Department of Education officials said.

Across grades 3-8, just 39% of students who took part in the testing scored as proficient at reading and writing last spring, down from the previous low of 51%, and just 28% scored proficient in math, far below the previous low point of 40%, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

The tests administered last spring were the first reliable comparison to pre-pandemic testing done in 2019.

Still, state schools chief Colt Gill struck a determined and even optimistic note, referring to the multibillion-dollar infusion of money that Oregon schools are receiving from the state’s $1 billion-a-year business taxes for education plus another one-time $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.

“The results tell us that we need to double down on what we know works when we’re addressing unfinished learning,” he told the newspaper. “Districts can aim those funds … to accelerate academic learning and support mental health and well-being so that kids are really feeling like they are ready to learn.”

In Oregon, unlike most national findings about pandemic learning lags, white students didn’t fare better than students of color during school closure and disruptions. In grades three through six, the share of white students, Latino students and Indigenous students who mastered English or math all fell 8 percentage points from 2019 to 2022, an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive found. Black students and students with disabilities experienced smaller drops, but had far lower proficiency rates to begin with.

A small share of schools and districts defied the distressing statewide and nationwide trends.

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest, saw no change in overall elementary reading and writing proficiency from 2019 to 2022 and its elementary students’ math performance was higher this spring than in 2019. Its middle schools were another story, however, as student proficiency levels fell significantly, particularly in math.

Bend-La Pine also avoided the steep declines experienced by other districts, with passing rates falling by less than 5% on both exams, OPB reported.

Because fewer than 60% of 11th-graders took the English or math tests, the high school scores aren’t reliable, state officials said. That was true even before the pandemic, and state officials say they are working to find ways to meaningfully measure how well high schools are helping students master academics.

The scores released Thursday come from the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which include open-ended questions and performance tasks as well as multiple-choice items. Nine other states, including Washington, also use Smarter Balanced tests to measure school performance.

Oregon Dept. of Education news release:

2022 Oregon Statewide Assessment System Results Launch New Era for Assessment in Oregon 

Assessment results underscore the need for continued investment from the Student Success Act, the High School Success program and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, in continued support for mental health and wellbeing as well as accelerated academic learning, and other crucial programs meeting student needs.

State summative assessments are designed to identify differences in student group outcomes and help improve the education system over time. These assessments do not measure the breadth of academic learning of any individual student.

(Salem, Ore.) – Following two years of disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released results from the Oregon Statewide Assessment System’s spring 2022 summative assessments. These results will be the baseline by which future progress will be measured and should call on us all to redouble our efforts to help our students thrive.

“The assessment results are a call to action for Oregon to keep advancing the programs we know meet our students’ needs,” ODE Director Colt Gill said. “As expected, the pandemic had an impact on learning in Oregon and across the country. Thanks to lawmakers passing the Student Success Act, and the agency’s implementation of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, additional mental health and wellbeing supports, summer learning and other crucial programs providing engaging instruction and boosting mental health have been implemented. We believe the framework is in place to be able to help Oregon’s students achieve.

"Oregon’s students of color, tribal citizens, students who experience disability, students navigating poverty and rural students were disproportionately impacted and investments to renew and accelerate learning need to focus on these communities. We stand with our districts as they move forward with the plans they created with local community input to address the needs they see in their schools.”

“Every student deserves the chance to graduate from school prepared for lifelong success,” said Governor Kate Brown. “As our schools, students and families continue to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, we must continue to accelerate state and federal investments in high-quality instruction and strategies that support academic success, student mental health and other student needs, with a particular focus on equity and helping the students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

Purpose of Summative Assessments 

State summative assessments are designed to identify differences in student group outcomes and help improve the education system over time. These assessments do not measure the breadth of academic learning of any individual student. They are limited to three academic subject areas. They do not name all the strengths, talents, gifts or needs of any individual. And, they do not describe the full context of what a school is providing socially or academically to students. 

Statewide annual assessment results are one of several important measures of school performance and progress. These results are easily accessed and quantified and receive attention, in part, because they are easily communicated. Our schools also provide hot meals to nourish our children; warm hugs and high expectations from caring educators; counseling and support; access to support for students who find themselves houseless; hands-on career training and experiences; college credits at little or no cost; and clubs, sports and activities that offer connection and relevance for students. There is so much we are not able to measure on a state scale and all of it impacts our children's success. 

However, the results hold value by informing education planning and decision making in critical ways. The information from these assessments help evaluate academic programs across districts and schools and boost school districts’ ability to prioritize additional funds, resources and supports to the schools, educators and students who need them most.

State test results are most useful when participation thresholds are met, so participation is central to their role in helping improve outcomes for all of Oregon’s students. Any comparisons made with prior years’ data should be made with caution and focused on identifying strengths and accelerating student growth, not enacting deficit frames for Oregon’s schools. 

Assessment data should be used constructively—to help inform parents and families about their students’ schools and to ensure schools receive the necessary resources to help support students. Oregon can make significant gains in outcomes through transparent, well-resourced and sustained efforts like the Student Success Act. As the Secretary of State’s Systemic Risk Report explained, previous efforts in Oregon have shown that short lived reforms, constant change, underfunded efforts and punitive measures do not help us tap into the strengths of our education professionals and school systems to reach our goals for student success. Coming out of the pandemic, we need to align, focus on system strengths and provide consistency for programs that meet the needs of all students. 

Summative Assessment Results

The results are a snapshot in time and reflect how student groups performed in three content areas: English language arts (ELA), mathematics and science. The ELA and mathematics assessments are given in grades 3-8 plus 11th grade; science assessments are given in grades 5, 8 and 11. The table below shows the percentage of students who were proficient in Spring 2022. The term “proficient” refers to the achievement level that students achieve and whether they are on track to be college and career ready once they graduate from high school. Students are considered proficient if they are at Level 3 or Level 4 on the English language arts (ELA), mathematics or science assessments. 

Assessment results table

The high school results shared above should not be compared across schools or districts, nor with prior year results, unless those local areas had substantial participation rates in the time periods referenced (Oregon’s Technical Advisory Committee has recommended at least 80% participation to support systems level uses). The participation of students on Oregon’s high school assessments was too low to support typical comparisons or uses. 

The results do include some bright spots around the state, with several districts supporting student academic growth during the pandemic in specific areas. For example, some districts with high participation rates saw substantial academic growth for all students, students experiencing disabilities, students experiencing mobility and students who are federally identified as American Indian/Alaska Native, Black/African-American or Hispanic/Latino/a/x, in elementary mathematics between 2019 and 2022. Connecting with these districts, developing understanding of how they are supporting these outcomes and then sharing those practices with other like districts will drive  continuous improvement. 

These assessment results should serve as a continued call to action to accelerate investments like the Student Success Act, the High School Success program, equitable expenditure of the State School Fund and federal investments in high-quality instruction and other strategies that support academic acceleration, student mental health and other needs. These investments must support all students, but specifically target resources on students who have experienced the most disruption in their education and have the fewest opportunities for success. Everyone was impacted by this global pandemic, including our educator workforce. We must also invest to better support teachers, support staff and school leaders, including by bringing more diverse, highly qualified and caring adults into the education profession.

“While current generations in our country have not experienced learning disruptions on the scale of a global pandemic, previous generations have,” Gill said. “School has been significantly disrupted by disease, natural disaster, war and other events for people in this country and others throughout history. We are resilient, if nothing else. Our students will succeed. And our teachers, counselors, bus drivers and others will be there to ensure they do. We have already seen assessment scores rising for students who have had more time back in onsite learning. With the right support, caring educators and deep partnerships with families and community, our students will thrive.


Crook County Students Outpace State Assessment Scores

Results are above state average in most grade levels and subjects

(Prineville, OR) - Assessment data released today by the state shows CCSD students are above state average in 14 of 20 categories. That’s a big win after two years of a pandemic and lower participation in state testing due to families having the option to opt out their children.

“Although there was an overall achievement drop from pre-pandemic levels, at many grade levels, Crook County School District students performed better than the state average in English, Math, and Science. This is a celebration for us as we have historically lagged behind the state’s achievement level,” explained Dr. Hoff.

Much of the gains have occurred at the elementary level, with significant gains in English Language Arts and Math. For example, 4th and 7th graders are a full 10% above the state average in English, and 4th graders are 9% above the state benchmark in math.

While the data was positive in many areas, Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson says overall scores aren’t where she’d like them to be yet. The district wants to improve scores in all areas through more personalized interventions in the classrooms.

“We’re better now at tracking students, knowing where the gaps exist and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each student. Our next big step is to give more individualized attention to students who need interventions. It’s our responsibility to find those barriers and respond to the uniqueness of each child,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson provides two examples of how achievement can be improved. One is the new Freshmen Success program at Crook County High School that gives more attention to first-year high school students, leading to 95% of freshmen on-track to graduate. This means they’re missing fewer days of school, getting help with homework, and not falling behind with the school credits. It’s about setting a strong foundation so students know how to succeed in high school. The other district-wide effort that will continue is called the Big 5 Priorities. These buckets focus on knowing students by name, improved attendance, more mental health resources, better tools and resources for teachers in the classroom, and getting yearly feedback from staff, students, and families.

“School culture is at the heart of this strategy. Classroom participation and achievement will improve when students feel welcome, safe, and supported. That’s going to be where this district puts its energy and resources moving forward,” said Johnson.

CCSD vs. State Grade-Level Comparison & Participation Rates
OSAS SubjectGradeCCSD 21-22 % Level 3 or 4State of Oregon 21-22 % Level 3 or 4Achievement Difference (+/-)CCSD 21-22 Participation RateState of Oregon 21-22 Participation Rate
English Language Arts339.939.40.585.492.7
English Language Arts452.742.510.284.692.2
English Language Arts551.746.84.988.792.5
English Language Arts641.240.50.783.290.8
English Language Arts757.246.310.982.188.5
English Language Arts850.943.
English Language Arts1149.346.92.436.859.9
English Language ArtsAll Grades48.843.65.278.786.1
MathematicsAll Grades32.630.42.277.884.7
ScienceAll Grades29.029.5-0.575.181.5


Leader Breese-Iverson Calls on ODE Director Gill to Resign for Plummeting Student Assessment Results

SALEM, Ore. – House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson released the following statement after the Oregon Department of Education released the 2022 Statewide Assessment results.

“As a mother of two boys in high school, I am not surprised by the plummeting test scores of students across the state. Governor Brown and the Democrat majority took their orders from the teacher unions and shut down schools with callous disregard to the impact those shutdowns would have on students. They deliberately ignored parents who foresaw the devastating impacts the shutdown and mandates would have on their students,” said Breese-Iverson.

“Their press release and statements are insulting to parents across the state. Rather than reflect on their actions, Governor Brown and Director Colt Gill took zero accountability.” 

Breese-Iverson continued, “ODE needs to get it’s act together. Instead of focusing on improving our student’s ability to read, write and think critically, the Department has pushed a progressive political agenda in the waning days of their failed administration.”

“Today I am calling on Director Gill to resign. If he fails to do so, the Governor should send him home with a paper packet and ignore him, like he did to our students, until January.”

In the 2021 regular session, House Republican Education Committee members pushed HB 2962. The bill would have commissioned a study to understand students’ instructional needs caused by school shutdowns. However, the majority let it die in committee.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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