About half of Oregon students fell short on new standardized tests taken this past spring, according to results released Thursday. Washington students fared slightly better.

Students in Oregon and Washington took the same state tests for the first time this year. On most of the English and math exams, Washington students outperformed Oregon’s.  

But Oregon officials see the 50 percent passing rates as good news. Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman Crystal Greene says about 60 percent of students fell short on last year’s trial run of the tests.

“These results are really showing that hard work and dedication of our students and our teachers,” Greene said. “And we expect to see these results increase in the coming years.”

Both Oregon and Washington saw students score higher in English than in math. In both states, the divergence was largest at the high school level. In Washington, 62 percent of high schoolers passed English, while just 29 percent passed math.

Students all over Oregon took new Smarter Balanced state exams for the first time in Spring 2015.

Students all over Oregon took new Smarter Balanced state exams for the first time in Spring 2015.

Rob Manning

In Oregon, 69 percent of juniors passed English, compared to 31 percent passing math. 

Greene says high schoolers may have tried harder on the English test than on math, because students knew they could meet a graduation requirement by doing well on the English test.  

“Many of them had already met their math essential skill last year on our old state tests,” Greene explained, referring to the math graduation requirement. “So, there may have been a motivation factor at play that contributed to the difference between the English and the math results at high school.”

Additionally, both exams required students to explain how they arrived at their answers. Greene says students may be more accustomed to doing that for English, than in Math.

This is the first year Smarter Balanced is a main assessment for 17 states, including Oregon and Washington. In both states, officials are considering this year’s results a baseline.

In future years, state officials intend to use the results to measure school success, and possibly to help evaluate teacher effectiveness.