By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

State report cards for schools and school districts released Thursday point to the impact of Bend-La Pine high school juniors opting out of standardized tests.

They also show more Bend-La Pine students in grades three to five passed the English portion of the standardized test than last year, and the exact same percentage passed the math section as the year prior.

The Oregon Department of Education released the so-called report cards, which give information including how students’ Smarter Balanced standardized tests fared compared to state averages, as well as similar-school or similar-district averages.

While the score comparisons can be a useful tool for districts to analyze their performance, Bend-La Pine Schools takes into consideration standardized test participation rates, according to Jay Mathisen, deputy superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools. Under a law that went into effect in January, students can opt out of the Smarter Balanced standardized tests. The opt-out rate for Bend-La Pine juniors was especially high, at 50 percent, because, as Mathisen pointed out, students at that age are often more worried about Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, which can earn them college credit, and college admission tests.

Bend-La Pine Schools’ report shows while 64.2 percent of juniors met the English language arts standards in the 2014-15 school year, 50.6 percent met it in 2015-16.

Mathisen said the district found that a high percentage of the students who opted out of the 2015-16 Smarter Balanced tests had passed the year before. For that reason, the district sees the decreased rates of passing for juniors as unreliable data.

About 10 percent of students in grades six through eight opted out, Mathisen said, adding the district also sees scores for those students as not truly representative, because of the opt-out rate. But in grades three through five, where less than 5 percent of students opted out, Mathisen said, the district can use the data.

In English language arts, 64.7 percent of Bend-La Pine third-, fourth- and fifth-graders passed in 2015-16, compared to 61.5 percent the year before. At a 64.7 percent pass rate, those students did considerably better the state average, at 52.4 percent, and better than the average for similar districts, at 58.4 percent. Bend-La Pine students in grades three through five had the exact same percentage pass rate in math in 2015-16 as the school year before: 56.7. That percentage was higher than the state and similar districts’ average pass rates in 2015-16.

To boost the turnout rate for testing juniors, Bend-La Pine Schools is advocating for the state to allow the ACT, a college admissions test, to count as the standardized test at that grade level. Juniors are more likely to want to do well on the ACT than on the Smarter Balanced test, because Smarter Balanced doesn’t count toward grades, and college admissions don’t look at the results.

Plus, for about the past 10 years, Bend-La Pine Schools has paid for all juniors to take the ACT on campus. They can opt out, but because it’s a college admissions test that would otherwise cost them (or, more likely their parents), Bend-La Pine sees a much higher participation rate. About 50 percent of juniors participated in the Smarter Balanced test, but close to 90 percent took the ACT.

Redmond School District’s passing rates on the Smarter Balanced tests didn’t vary greatly between 2014-15 and 2015-16 in grades three through eight. Similar to Bend-La Pine, a drop could be seen in the juniors’ passing rate, though. A Redmond School District representative could not be reached for comment to confirm whether that related to opt-out rates in the district.

This year and last, the report cards don’t give an overall rating on any given school or district as it did in years past. So schools and districts can’t look at how well they’re performing at a glance. That’s because the ratings are mostly based on standardized test scores, and in 2014-15, the state changed the standardized test it uses from the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to the Smarter Balanced test, and it’s difficult to compare the two.

Other data the report cards provide include performance rates among different demographics, total enrollment numbers, percentage of classes taught by “highly qualified teachers,” the amount of money spent per student and expulsion and suspension rates.

To find your school or district’s report card, visit www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,

kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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