Oregon has fewer schools meeting federal benchmarks and more schools on a "needs improvement" list than in any year since federal education law changed, ten years ago. The latest results out Tuesday show Oregon schools aren't keeping up with a sharp rise in expectations.
A year ago, 71 percent of Oregon schools met federal benchmarks. This year, that figure fell to 54 percent. To reach federal benchmarks, also called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP - actually required ten percent more students to pass Reading and Math tests this year, than a year ago. Jay Remy with the Salem-Keizer school district says the backward slide isn't surprising.
"The bar got higher and so not quite as many schools got over that bar. We kind of expected that – and we look at our progress that we're making, and regardless of what the AYP status is, in many, many of schools we're seeing growth in the right direction, even if they don't meet AYP," Remy said.
Schools that receive federal money, and repeatedly miss benchmarks can wind up on a list of schools "needing improvement." Those schools often have to allow students to transfer away, or offer tutoring services, or even go through significant restructuring.
Salem-Keizer has schools that have been on the improvement list virtually since the No Child Left Behind act passed, in 2001.
According to Remy, "there are schools throughout the state, probably throughout the country, I would assume where you've got the issue of not making AYP going on and on and on, and I think that's probably one of the things that people would like to see changed about No Child Left Behind, would be 'Is there a way to bring all the help you need without bringing negative labels?'"
That's not the only change that schools would like to see to No Child Left Behind.
As difficult as getting 70 percent of students to pass tests may seem this year, next year would be even tougher. That’s when 80 percent of Oregon students will be required to pass. Matt Shelby with Portland Public Schools points out the requirement only goes up from there.
"Yeah, I believe by 2014, 100 percent of students need to miss all benchmarks for a school to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. Depending on who you talk to, that may be an unrealistic goal."
Susan Castillo: "We need to get this law changed," State schools superintendent Susan Castillo said.
Castillo sees changes on the way. The federal education law is up for re-authorization, and Congress could make big changes. Or else, Castillo expects Oregon to be one of a number of states to get waivers from the Education Secretary.
"It would be consistency across the country, where we're all aiming for these college-ready, work-ready standards, and we're all agreeing to work towards. Then also implementing the next generation of assessments that are under development right now that would go with those standards," Castillo explained.
Federal officials since the Bush Administration have been hearing states call for changes to No Child Left Behind. Officials have been reluctant to do anything that would appear to lower standards for all students.
It's not clear if the waiver would apply for the results of next school year. School district officials are nervous about next year's results. That's because state budget cuts are forcing changes in classrooms that could make meeting a higher standard that much harder.
AYP Results page