Central Oregon kindergartners start school with about the same level of literacy and math skills as their peers around the state, according to an assessment from the Oregon Department of Education.

Some students from wealthier neighborhoods in Bend-La Pine Schools had higher scores on the assessment, while Jefferson County School District’s kindergartners scored below the state average. But both districts say they make an effort to level the playing field once students are in classes.

The Department of Education’s assessment, held in the fall, had kindergarten students answer 16 simple math questions and asked them to recognize uppercase and lowercase English letters, as well as letter sounds. Students’ ability to follow directions and play with other kids cooperatively was also measured.

The intention of the assessment is to provide a “snapshot” of incoming kindergartners’ skills and to help the state identify student populations that might need extra support, according to the department of education.

The average Oregon kindergartener correctly answered 11.1 out of 16 math questions, recognized 14.3 uppercase and 11.7 lowercase English letters, and could recognize the sounds of 7.7 letters.

According to Lora Nordquist, Bend-La Pine’s assistant superintendent, the results of the assessment are “not tremendously important” to the district because of how predictable they are — typically, students from higher-income families enter kindergarten having attended quality preschools, and have more learning in their homes, she said.

“Those results, as you can imagine, are highly correlated with family income,” she said. “The kids who come into our highest-poverty schools are usually the students with the most need.”

The highest math and literacy scores in Bend-La Pine were from schools in northwest Bend, including High Lakes, William E. Miller, Westside Village Magnet School and Highland Magnet School, most of which have less than 12 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. New kindergartners at Westside Village had higher math scores among all demographics than any other elementary school in Oregon.

Meanwhile, scores were much lower at Bear Creek and Ensworth elementaries, where 95 percent of students receive free or reduced school lunch, compared to 8 percent at High Lakes or Highland.

Nordquist said Bend-La Pine Schools puts lots of effort into creating equitable learning environments for underprivileged students in every grade, not just kindergarten. One way the district achieves this is by standardizing teaching practices and curriculum across every elementary school in the district, which is especially useful for low-income families that may move frequently between schools.

“One of the nice things about our elementaries is that students are going to see the same reading program, math program (at every school),” she said.

In Jefferson County School District, students enter kindergarten with the lowest literacy and math scores in Central Oregon. The average kindergartener there answered 8.7 math questions correctly, and recognized 9 uppercase and 5 lowercase letters and 3.1 letter sounds.

According to Melinda Boyle, the district’s director of curriculum, her district has the highest poverty rate in Central Oregon — over 95 percent of the school district receives free or reduced lunch — and 35 percent of incoming kindergartners didn’t attend preschool. Regardless of these hurdles, Boyle said the district has many methods in place to ensure a quality education for these young students.

“We celebrate and support our students,” she said. “As soon as they enter, no matter what level they are, we’re excited to help with their learning.”

Boyle said at each Jefferson County School District elementary school, students receive 90 minutes per day of reading instruction with an extra 30 minutes of either reading enrichment or intervention, depending on the student.

Elementary schools also have 60 minutes daily for math instruction, and most provide another 30 minutes for math enrichment or intervention.

Jefferson County School District shares reading curriculum with local preschools, Boyle said, and the district provides after-school extended learning programs.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com