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Dip in scores prompts middle school study

A middle school study team will soon begin to analyze faltering scores by Hillsboro School District eighth-graders on the latest round of state tests, Assistant Superintendent Steve Larson said Wednesday morning.

Declining performance in reading and math by students at that grade level spurred the action.

“We’re putting together a group of people to really investigate what’s going on and make some recommendations” to the school board, Larson said. “We have some theories.”

State assessments released Sept. 10 revealed generally flat performance by students across all grade levels in reading, math, science and writing during 2013-14 as compared to the year before.

High points were gains in math at grades five and seven and in reading at grades five, six and seven in terms of meeting or exceeding state benchmarks. The low point was a six-point drop across all subject areas at grade eight.

But Larson, who is responsible for charting a course for student achievement throughout the district, said he was buoyed by news that overall, local schools had remained at status-quo even as a transition to a new set of standards — known as Common Core — continues.

“Even maintaining our achievement is something of a victory,” Larson said.

The latest test results reveal a “misalignment” between new guidelines for what’s being taught in classrooms and the tools that measure achievement, Larson explained.

“Assessments are aligned with the old standards,” he said. “We’re in a time of transition.”

In Oregon, Common Core standards were adopted in 2010 and kicked in during 2011-12. Last school year, 2013-14, marked the first full year of implementation, according to Larson.

He said that given the “disruption” of implementation at the classroom level, as teachers scramble to comply, “anything above a three-point gain” by students was significant — and cause for celebration.

“Closing the achievement gap is the number-one goal in our district,” Larson said. “We are making progress in that area with our students of color and English language learners. I wouldn’t want the eighth-grade concerns to trump that.”

Mirroring results elsewhere in the state, Hillsboro’s four high schools — Century, Glencoe, Hilhi and Liberty — showed either modest dips or hold-the-line performance on the assessments. Hillsboro High and Century scores dipped 5.4, while Liberty had a 1.1 percent gain.

Plus, Larson noted, “we’re looking at a rebound situation ... a 24-point gain from eighth-grade to high school performance.” On the low side, just above half of eighth-graders met or exceeded standards last year. On the high side, 76 percent of students at Liberty High School reached state benchmarks.

Larson indicated it was still relatively early to begin analyzing whether Common Core was helping or hurting student achievement.

“Depending on who you ask, there’s either hope or there’s concern,” he said, adding the new standards push students to demonstrate a higher level of college- and career-readiness.

In Hillsboro, Larson noted, “we have a positive outlook on what the Common Core can do.”

There are other important indicators for student achievement, Larson said, including attendance and the percentage of students taking college course work or advanced-placement classes in high school.

“Those things matter as well,” he said.

Across Oregon, annual test results held steady last year with no large increases or decreases, according to a report released along with the scores by Oregon Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton.

“We are in a time of significant and exciting educational change,” Saxton said. “As a state, we are working to transform education from early childhood through career to better prepare our students for their futures.”

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