More Oregon Students Took State Exams In 2018-2019, But Passing Rates Are Down

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Sept. 19, 2019 3 p.m.

Assessment results for Oregon schools are out, and the percentage of students proficient in math and English language arts is down from last year.

The 2018-2019 scores show 53.4% of Oregon students were proficient in English language arts this year, a 1.5% drop from a year ago.


And they’re 39.4% proficient in math, one point lower than last year.

Students are tested in grades three through eight, and as high school juniors. The Oregon Department of Education says the results provide a snapshot of student progress. But ODE notes that this is just one assessment and should be taken in context with other data points.

“It shouldn’t be the only thing we’re looking at,” ODE Director Colt Gill said.

This year, the results hold a little more weight than usual. State officials expect the data to help districts figure out how to spend some of the money from the new business tax for schools, called the Student Success Act.

Here are a few takeaways from the data:

Takeaway 1: Participation Is Up

Overall, nearly 1% more students took the tests this year. Though there are likely many reasons for the increased participation, ODE says one factor was the removal of a requirement that prevented high school students from taking the test earlier in the year.

In prior years, students wouldn’t be able to take the tests until late spring. With the requirement removed, students can now take the test as early as January. High schoolers were reluctant to take the state's Smarter Balanced exams, on top of  Advanced Placement exams and other tests they were taking.

There was about a 2% increase in participation for high school juniors in both the English and math tests.

ODE highlighted increased participation in two of the state's largest districts – a four percent increase in Portland Public Schools and a nine percent increase from Bend-La Pine students.

Takeaway 2: Scores Are Down

Scores decreased almost across the board.

Scores in Oregon’s three biggest school districts decreased. In Portland, they decreased by about 2% in both English language arts and math. In 11th grade math, however, there was an almost four percent increase over last year’s scores.

Beaverton School District had smaller losses over last year’s scores. There were minor gains in a couple of grades in English.

Salem-Keizer had a 2% drop in English Language Arts between this year and last, and a small decrease in math proficiency. A couple of elementary grades made incremental gains.

Scores at several East Multnomah County school districts increased slightly, including David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds and Corbett.


ODE’s Gill called the scores stagnant and said it is time for a change.

“There is clearly room for improvement across the state,” Gill said.

But Gill said there is value in other student assessments too.

“We should be looking at our student’s social-emotional well-being, which we don’t have a statewide measure in Oregon for yet,” Gill said. “We should be looking at other content areas that we know help keep our students engaged and wanting to come to school every day.”

Takeaway 3: Achievement Gaps Persist

With overall decreases in scores comes a continuing achievement gap between student groups.

When it comes to math scores, more than twenty-point gaps exist between white students and other racial groups, including Black, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students.

Asian student math scores exceed all other student groups, at 66%.

Less than 13% of students with disabilities are rated as proficient in math. For economically disadvantaged students, that number is 27%.

In English language arts, the gaps are similar, but there are more students overall passing the tests.

According to ODE, Hispanic students’ proficiency increased in Lake Oswego, Ashland, and Cascade school districts. American Indian/Alaska Native students gained in Reynolds and Roseburg districts.

Helping underserved communities succeed in school is one major goal of the Student Success Act, which will give money to school districts – and require monitoring to make sure districts actually improve student achievement.

Takeaway 4: Funding Student Success

The next couple of years will be big for Oregon schools. Districts are looking forward to a cash infusion from the Student Success Act, a new business tax.

And although the assessment only measures two subjects, districts will have to use the results to monitor how students are doing.

“Districts are required to set performance targets around third-grade literacy which would be measured by this assessment in particular,” Gill said.

Gill also hopes districts use these assessments to prioritize student needs.

“The key is for us to use the data from these assessments to help our districts make decisions about how to invest and serve the students who need it most in the ways that will help them the most,” said Gill.

He also wants districts to use local data, as well as community and student input, to create plans outlining district needs.

School district improvement plans are due to the state by November.