Editorial: ‘D’ grade for Oregon education doesn’t tell the story

Published Jan 16, 2014 at 12:01AM

At first blush, it sounds pretty awful: A respected publication reviews reputable test scores and gives Oregon a D in academic achievement, saying it ranks 40th in the nation.

But the publication Education Week considered a lot more than test scores to determine the academic achievement rankings in its Quality Counts report earlier this month. In fact, the scores themselves take up only four of the 18 lines of information in that section of the report.

Education Week used the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given to a sample of students nationwide. Here’s how Oregon stacked up:

• 40.2 percent of 4th graders were proficient in math, compared with 41.3 percent nationally.

• 34.3 percent of 8th graders were proficient in math, compared with 34.4 percent nationally.

• 33.4 percent of 4th graders were proficient in reading, compared with 34.0 percent nationally.

• 36.7 percent of 8th graders were proficient in reading, compared with 34.3 percent nationally.

Hardly the results you’d like to see for Oregon or the nation, but also hardly support for the idea that this state is doing terribly in comparison with other states.

Oregon didn’t do as well on Advanced Placement test scores and in its rate of increasing achievement and reducing the poverty gap. Graduation rates were also considered, but outdated measures may make those figures misleading, according to a report in The Oregonian.

With all those factors, the nation got a C-minus and Oregon got a D. The top grade of B went to Massachusetts, with an F for the District of Columbia and Mississippi and 32 states in the D to C-minus range.

We appreciate the importance of all the factors Education Week used in its calculation. But it’s confusing when achievement scores are mixed with other factors to produce a grade. The actual scores need independent attention.

Education Week’s report also delves into multiple other education issues, including an assessment of an individual’s “chance for success” and comparative school financing, among others. It’s a useful examination of the state of education today and deserves serious attention that can’t be simplified into letter grades that mislead, rather than enlighten.