PORTLAND – Oregon intends to shift how it evaluates schools and intervenes in those with the poorest results, moving from the rigid model required under No Child Left Behind to a more nuanced approach shaped by Oregonians.
State leaders plan to make that official this week when they submit their 136-page plan to the federal education department.
Under the new approach, beginning with results from the current school year, Oregon schools’ performance will be judged on a wider array of factors than reading and math scores and graduation rates alone.
State officials express optimism that the switch will make a positive difference for students.
“This extends the promise of a well-rounded education,” state schools chief Salam Noor told the Oregonian/OregonLive in an interview Monday. “All over Oregon, we hear that’s what parents and students want… This is an opportunity to think about education as a local endeavor.”
Technically, the rules won’t change all that dramatically. Schools still will be judged on statistical outcomes for students, including standardized test scores, not by a more subjective judgment about which schools are offering a truly well-rounded education.
But Noor and other Oregon Department of Education leaders say they’ll combine new messages about what’s important and new flexibility granted by the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to drive more emphasis on science, social studies, career-technical education and the arts.
It remains to be seen whether a new era of well-rounded education will in fact emerge. Students’ performance on state reading, writing and math exams, and their growth over time as measured by those tests, will still count more heavily than any other factor in a school’s rating. And most Oregon schools have a very long way to go to get all or nearly all their students to show mastery on those tests.
But under the new approach, schools will face demands to do other things well. Their ratings also will hinge on getting students to attend regularly and, for high schools, ensuring that freshmen earn six credits by the start of sophomore year – the two strongest factors determining whether a student is likely to make it to high school graduation.
Schools’ performance will also be judged on English language acquisition by their non-native speakers and on graduation rates.
And, thanks to Oregon’s senior U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s influence on the new law, any high school that fails to graduate at least 67 percent of its students in four years will automatically be in line for state help. For the class of 2016, about 55 alternative high schools and 16 regular high schools, including Portland’s Roosevelt High, hit that trigger level.
Unlike with the widely unpopular No Child Left Behind law, which governed the way U.S. schools were rated for more than a decade, a school won’t come under fire for a singular failed result with a single student population.
But the federal law still requires the state to release key school performance measures for numerous student populations, including racial and ethnic groups, low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English as a second language.
And schools that show high performance overall but have one or more student groups struggling badly in many areas will be singled out for extra state attention. Unlike under No Child Left Behind, that consequence will apply to all schools, not just those that receive federal Title I money to help disadvantaged students.
“We will be putting a priority on advancing equity in Oregon,” Noor said. “This (federal education) law is a civil rights law.”
State officials say they’re also excited about a big change Oregon will make in the way it holds schools accountable and helps low-performing ones get better. Instead of working directly with individual schools, the state will work with school districts to assist them with turning around their problem s schools.
Trying to fix a school without pulling bigger levers throughout the school district too often meant a school didn’t improve or a turnaround didn’t persist, said Dawne Huckaby, assistant state superintendent for teaching, learning and assessment.
“This changes our role,” she said. “We will be supporting districts who will be supporting their schools.”
Schools whose performance places them in the bottom 5 percent statewide among schools that receive Title I aid statewide will be tentatively identified late this summer based on test scores, chronic absenteeism rates, English language learners’ progress and ninth-grade success rates. High schools with graduation rates below 68 percent will also be singled out.
The final list of schools that fall into the lowest 5 percent or have unacceptably low graduation rates will be made in summer 2018, using results from the 2017-2018 school year and class of 2017 graduation rates.
Working with their school districts, those schools will have to evaluate where they aren’t meeting their students’ needs and make a plan to fix that. They will be watched over by the state as they carry out those plans in from 2018 to 2021. Those that aren’t making enough progress along the way will get added pressure and help from the state.
In scores of public hearings and specially convened meetings, Oregon teachers, parents, employers and child advocates said they want Oregon schools to be judged holistically, not on standardized statistical outputs.
Oregon Department of Education officials pushed back against throwing measurements of the richness of a school’s curricular offerings or the health of its social/emotional climate into the ratings equation because there is no reliable way to objectively measure those characteristics.
But they did agree to create a space on schools’ official state performance reports for district officials to provide a short narrative about such offerings as arts education, career-tech instruction, library services and after-school programs. And they say they will continue to explore ways to add more nuance to the state’s school rating systems.
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