Report: some schools improve, others persist in failure
Posted October 13
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's highest-performing schools are concentrated mostly in places where parents have high levels of education, high incomes or both: Lake Oswego, Corvallis, Sherwood, West Linn.
But Oregon's latest school performance ratings, released Thursday, also spotlight successes in some less likely places, including schools serving students from average families in the North Clackamas, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Philomath and Albany school districts.
View Acres Elementary in Milwaukie and Beavercreek Elementary in Oregon City netted some of the very best performance rankings in the state, despite serving student bodies that are roughly 20 percent non-white and 40 percent low-income, reports The Oregonian/OregonLive (http://bit.ly/2eb5KCC). Both schools topped the charts for their students' year-to-year growth in reading and math — for students overall and for low-income and minority students in particular.
"I am really excited about that," View Acres Principal Mike Potter said. "It's a credit to our teachers' focus and their genuine care for each of their students."
The ratings also revealed that some schools that were the worst performers four years ago are still churning out rock-bottom results. That's despite expert coaching, tens of thousands of dollars in extra funding and high-profile pressure to do better. Half those schools are in just two districts: Portland and Reynolds.
One of the reasons the state rates schools' performance each year is that federal law requires states to announce — and provide extra help for — schools with the worst performance problems.
Ratings are based mainly on student growth on standardized reading, writing and math tests and, for high schools, graduation rates. Schools get extra credit for doing well with high priority students: low-income, special education and minority students and those learning English as a second language. They get dinged if they don't.
The Oregon Department of Education announced Thursday how the 77 schools it singled out as the lowest performers four years ago -- and has coached to improve ever since -- have managed to do.
After a long slog to raise reading, math and writing achievement, 10 of the schools succeeded wildly, but 44 made only moderate improvement, the state said. Twenty remain unacceptably low-performing.
The superstars among the improving schools include Russell Elementary in Parkrose, Portland Public Schools' Jefferson High and Vernon K-8 School, an academy at Woodburn High, and North Clackamas' Riverside Elementary. All raised rock-bottom performance to admirable levels.
The persistently extra-poor performers are disproportionately in Portland Public Schools, including Roosevelt High, King K-8 and Rosa Parks Elementary, and in the Reynolds district in east Multnomah County, where all five elementary schools that made the lowest-performing schools list in 2012 are still there.
The poor performance at Roosevelt and King is doubly disappointing because those schools received multimillion-dollar federal grants on top of the more modest state assistance to help them improve.
Both schools' test scores and student growth, and Roosevelt's graduation rates, remain among the very worst of the state's more than 1,200 schools.
Antonio Lopez, Portland's assistant superintendent for school performance, said he is confident King, Scott and Woodlawn K-8 schools plus Rosa Parks are on the right track. Each was called out by the state for failing to make even "moderate" improvement over the four years they've been told to shape up. Lopez meets with each of those schools' principals three times a year to discuss and refine their improvement plans and review data about student outcomes.
Lopez pins his optimism partly on the fact that Oregon graded the four schools' year-over-year academic growth as "Level 2," one notch above the worst rating. Still, their growth rates ranks in the bottom 10 percent of Oregon schools.
He conceded Roosevelt desperately needs to do better. He said a new focus on curbing chronic absenteeism along with five new career-technical programs should help.
In Reynolds, where the state found no substantial improvements in the five low-performing schools after four years, Superintendent Linda Florence offered written comments defending the district's choice of curriculum, mid-year progress tests and extra help for students.
But, she acknowledged, "We see a need to raise achievement overall."
Three of Reynolds' elementary schools, Davis, Alder and Glenfair, have among the state's very lowest test scores, with only about 10 percent of students showing proficiency at Common Core reading and math skills.
The schools serve a challenging population, with high rates of students for whom English is a second language and poverty is a daily reality. The state estimates that similar schools in Oregon, on average, help 25 percent or more of their students reach proficiency.
For more than a decade, until 2014, the state rated schools' overall performance, assigning each school to a category signifying top achievers, adequate performers or the worst of the worst.
This year, however, the state isn't providing an overall rating, as it redesigns its system to comply with a federal law that kicks in next year.
Instead, Oregon rated each school's year-over-year student growth in English and math, the share of students who meet Common Core standards, and year-over-year growth among low-income, minority and special education students as a group. For high schools, it also rates graduation rates overall and the graduation rate for minority, low-income and special education students.
The lowest performing high schools in Oregon were in the Portland area: Roosevelt, Aloha and Reynolds high schools. High schools are judged heavily on their graduation rates, and Roosevelt's and Reynolds' rates barely topped 60 percent.
The state's lowest performing elementary schools are mainly in Portland and Reynolds and in rural small towns. They include Kelly and Rigler in Portland, Warm Springs K-8 Academy, Wilkes and Woodland in Reynolds, and schools in the tiny towns of Stanfield, Irrigon, Mapleton and Metolius.
Schools with the highest ratings in every or nearly every category, particularly in student growth and high school graduation rates, include West Linn, Lakeridge and Clackamas high schools, Lake Oswego, Sherwood and Happy Valley middle schools, and elementary schools in well-off neighborhoods of Lake Oswego, Portland and West Linn.
Also among them: Philomath High, in a scrappy former timber town near Corvallis; perennial superstar West Albany High; and up-and-comers Elmira and Wilsonville highs. On the elementary front, many schools in Hillsboro, Oregon City and North Clackamas that serve socioeconomically diverse students made strong showings, including Milwaukie Elementary and Hillsboro's Ladd Acres and Quatama schools.
Potter, principal of high-performing View Acres in Milwaukie, said his students do well on state tests in part because teachers build good habits starting in kindergarten. Students need to talk a lot, using academically precise language, and teachers set the stage to make that happen, he said.
"The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning," he said. "We get our students to have the discourse, to own their learning. Partly it is asking the right questions: 'Tell me more,' 'What's your evidence?'"
"When they share their thinking, it takes their learning to another level, and then their learning helps" other students who hear it articulated, he said. "It's exciting."