Editorial: Audit adds focus on student achievement gaps

In an audit focused on Oregon’s K-12 school achievement gaps, Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office found disturbing rankings but had plenty of compliments for recent Oregon Department of Education efforts.

Indeed, the issue of lower performance by minority and disadvantaged populations has received lots of attention in the state in recent years. It’s a critical part of efforts needed to meet the governor’s 40-40-20 goal, which says that by 2025, 40 percent of students should earn a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent an associate’s degree or certificate, and the remaining 20 percent have a high school diploma. That means 100 percent graduating from high school, while the state now reaches 69 percent.

The audit reviewed eighth-grade test scores in reading and math. It found poor, Hispanic, black and Native American students mostly a full year behind other student groups. Worse, it found no improvement in those gaps between 2004-05 and 2011-12.

ODE was recognized for making the issue a priority, and specifically for forming an Education Equity unit and a new report card rating system for schools. The audit suggested a different numerical measurement could help the department monitor progress.

State funding issues were acknowledged in the audit, along with the significant overhaul that has taken place in recent years in state-level education leadership and structure. It noted the increasing percentage of minority and disadvantaged students in the state. One bright spot was a narrowing of the gap for Hispanic students from 2004-05 to 2011-12.

The auditors visited schools identified as making progress in helping lower-performing students and summarized some winning strategies, such as principal leadership, use of rewards rather than punishments to influence student behavior, and methods to identify and deliver needed individual academic support. Reducing absenteeism, reaching out to parents and providing food and clothing were also cited, among others.

We doubt ODE found much new in this audit’s summary of the situation or in its suggestions for changes. This is not a subject that’s been ignored in Salem. Still, it’s a crucial one, and the audit can’t hurt by giving it additional emphasis.