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Oregon Test Scores Show Persistent Achievement Gaps Based On Race, Income


Oregon students score progressively better from year-to-year on the English test, with 69 percent of high school students testing as proficient.

Oregon students score progressively better from year-to-year on the English test, with 69 percent of high school students testing as proficient.

Rob Manning/OPB

Standardized test scores released Thursday show Oregon students improved, but only by one percentage point, on average, compared to last year.

The Smarter Balanced exams continue to show enormous achievement gaps based on race. Forty-seven percent of white students pass math tests, on average, compared to just 19 percent of black students, and 24 percent of Hispanic children. The gaps are similar on the English exams.

There’s also a double-digit divide between low-income students and wealthier ones.

State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Salam Noor emphasized the positive in a statement he released, noting gains in the scores from students with disabilities, students in poverty and English learners.

“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,” Noor said.

Students took these state exams for just the second time, last spring.

Math scores are generally best for third graders — the first year students take the exams. But even in third grade, less than half of Oregon students passed the math exam. By high school, that falls to just one-third.

Salem-Keizer assistant superintendent Kelly Carlisle says the math tests are more than numbers. 

“Most of us would find it very challenging to express how we came up with an answer, a mathematical answer, by communicating our thinking process. And that’s exactly what this assessment asks of our students,” Carlisle said.

Oregon students score progressively better from year-to-year on the English test, with 69 percent of high school students testing as proficient.

Poverty and Test Scores In Oregon's Biggest School Districts

A look at Oregon's three biggest school districts  — Portland, Beaverton and Salem-Keizer — show performances are higher in schools with lower percentages of students dealing with poverty ... and lower in schools where poverty is more pervasive.

Rob Manning and Tony Schick. Source: Oregon Department of Education. Note: The percent of students eligible for free/reduced price lunch was not available for some schools.

State-level scores didn’t change much, but Carlisle says individual schools sometimes did, like at Auburn Elementary in Salem. It’s a high-poverty school where math and English scores improved significantly. 

Portland Public Schools officials are noting that more than 40 of its schools saw average improvement on the English exams, most of them elementary or K-8 schools.

“Consistent with our investment priorities over the last few years, we are seeing a significant progression in our priority and focus schools and in 3-5 reading, which tells us our efforts are delivering results,” the district said in a statement. “These data also tell us that we need to continue to look at our ELA [English Language Arts] strategies for upper grades.

“Our math scores were primarily stagnant, which also gives us information we need as we look at how and where to focus our resources in this new school year,” the statement said.

Among the Portland schools to see flattening, or a decline in scores, is Jefferson High School, where fewer than 10 percent of students passed the math exam, and less than a quarter passed the English test.

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