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Ore. students shaky on Common Core, but top low expectations

 

PORTLAND — State education officials warned that Smarter Balanced exams would be more difficult, and they were right.

The new tests, taken by nearly 300,000 Oregon students this spring, were designed to show how well schools helped students meet the rigorous Common Core standards for reading, writing and math.

Based on a trial run at some schools last year, officials projected 30 to 40 percent of students would pass.

Scores released Thursday show students performed a bit better than that, with 54 percent meeting the standards for English and 40 percent meeting the standards for math.

“I am encouraged that our students exceeded initial projections,” Oregon schools chief Salam Noor said in a statement.

The new standards are meant to reflect college and career readiness. Fewer students met the standards on Smarter Balanced compared to the old test, but that's the point. These are tougher standards and students are being asked to master concepts earlier.

Beyond fill-in-the-bubble questions, Smarter Balanced requires students to provide rationales and do multi-step analyses in addition to getting the answers right. In English, the primary focus is having students read challenging passages and articles, then construct arguments about the material.

The scores revealed a divide in Oregon schools, even if they're allotted similar dollars per student.

Research has shown that family income and parent education levels have a large effect on student achievement. Schools that serve low-income students must deliver more instruction to get similar results as schools in affluent areas.

Schools that draw students from wealthy neighborhoods in Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Portland's west side performed very well, The Oregonian reported. At other schools, barely 10 percent of students have the writing and math skills that experts say are essential. Examples include the lone school on the Warm Springs reservation and many elementary schools in poor neighborhoods of Salem and east Portland.

But some schools bucked the trend.

Clackamas High, for example, equipped more than 80 percent of its low-income juniors to read and write at a college-ready level. And a pair of Ashland elementary schools got 75 percent of their low-income students proficient in reading and writing, twice the state average for low-income elementary pupils.

More than 90 percent of Oregon students took the exams despite parental concerns that schools overemphasize testing. State officials have warned that schools risk losing $344 million in federal money if too many parents have their kids opt-out.

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