A computer lab at Westview High School.

A computer lab at Westview High School.

Rob Manning/OPB

Oregon will have an entirely different system for judging schools this fall, based on support, rather than penalties.

For years, schools across the country faced sanctions if their test scores failed to reach specific federal targets, known as “Adequate Yearly Progress.” Year-by-year, targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law got higher, as sanctions got tougher for schools with low scores.

In recent years, though, federal education officials moved in another direction — first, by granting waivers from aspects of the law, and then in late 2015, with Congressional passage of the new “Every Student Succeeds” law. 

Now, punitive measures are largely gone. The focus is on supporting schools, based on their local needs.  

Oregon schools will be judged on a number of measures. Some are familiar — like standardized test scores and high schools’ four-year graduation rates. Others are new accountability metrics — like tracking students who are chronically absent, whether ninth graders are earning enough credits to graduate on time and five-year graduation rates.

Schools that are low on several measures will be labeled as needing “comprehensive” support. Schools where just certain student groups are struggling will get “targeted support.” High schools with low graduation rates will get support designations, too.  

In new guidance from the state, school districts are identified as the leaders of the improvement efforts, rather than individual schools.

“This new plan recognizes individual schools as part of a larger district system,” said Oregon Department of Education in a statement to OPB.  “Moving forward, districts will be the point of contact for identified schools.”

That’s a change from the state’s previous accountability systems where government regulators worked directly with school-level administrators.

The new guidance highlights the importance of local data and context. Conditions at schools that need help will be at the center of needs assessments and “continuous improvement plans.” ODE will provide technical assistance to all districts, but the state agency is offering additional help to districts with multiple schools in need of support.  

A list of affected schools is due out in October.