For two straight years, the Oregon Department of Education reported no data from state test results for Summit and La Pine high schools due to high numbers of students opting out of the tests. But that changed dramatically in the 2018-19 school year, when more than 60% of Summit juniors and more than 80% of La Pine juniors took the Smarter Balanced math and English exams.

“I think we have a long way to go at the high schools, but I’m glad we’re turning in that direction,” said Lora Nordquist, Bend-La Pine Schools’ assistant superintendent.

Meanwhile, Ridgeview High School saw change in the opposite direction. In 2018-19, less than 30% of students took the English and math standardized tests — a significantly lower number than both Redmond High that same year, as well as Ridgeview’s participation rate in 2017-18.

More testing opt-ins in Bend-La Pine

I n the 2018-19 school year, participation rates in both Smarter Balanced tests rose at all four major high schools the in Bend-La Pine Schools’ district, with the largest jumps happening at Summit and La Pine. At Summit, 73.3% took the English test, and 64.6% took the math test. La Pine had even more students participate — 82.2% took the English test, and 81.1% took the math test.

Mountain View and Bend High also saw participation gains overall. However, only 30% of juniors at Mountain View took the tests, and there was no reported data for Bend High students taking the math exam. About 40% of Bend High juniors took the English test.

The number of students who passed the exam at all four major Bend-La Pine high schools was under the state average — in Oregon, about 67% of students passed the English test and 32% passed the math test. But participation rates are also much higher statewide, with 85% of students taking the math exam and 87.8% taking the English exam.

Nordquist said there wasn’t a heavy school district push for having more juniors take the state exams, but district administrators did try to communicate to parents the importance of taking the test, so Bend-La Pine can check if students are keeping up academically.

“For kids, they’ve got a lot of tests, so it doesn’t seem to have a lot of meaning,” she said. “But … this data is useful to us.”

Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson said participation in the state testing was important to the school district, as it monitors student success. However, the district also uses many other measures, such as the ACT, to do so.

Nordquist said the big boosts for La Pine and Summit were likely because leaders at the two high schools wanted to bounce back from their very low participation rates in past years.

“Maybe there were efforts to be more explicit and positive about encouraging families, there was more of an effort to encourage (taking the tests) at those schools,” she said.

Dan Farley, assessment director for the Oregon Department of Education, said one reason why testing participation might have risen by about 1% statewide, particularly in high schools, was that the state removed a previous rule which forbade high schools from offering the state tests until the school year was two-thirds complete. With schools able to offer tests earlier in the year so it wouldn’t interfere with the SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement tests, more students might have been more willing to take the Smarter Balanced exams, Farley said.

Matt Montgomery, La Pine High School’s principal, said he and La Pine staff also had conversations with students, telling them that many careers, such as nursing, law and truck driving, require a high-stakes test, so the state tests were another opportunity to get used to that feeling.

Summit High Principal ­Michael McDonald could not be reached for comment.

Bend-La Pine offers the ACT college aptitude test for free to 11th graders, and if a student earns a high enough score, the state allows the test, or the SAT, as a replacement for passing the Smarter Balanced test .

Ridgeview participation falls

Participation rates at Ridgeview High School in south Redmond fell by about 40% for both the English and math state exams in 2018-19, with only 29.8% taking the English test and 24.6% taking the math test. The number of 11th graders who passed the tests also fell, with 38.6% passing the English test and 8.5% passing the math test.

Participation rates in Redmond High stayed just below the state average, as about 80% of students took both tests.

David Burke, Redmond School District’s director of secondary programs, said district staff has discussed why Ridgeview’s opt-out rate was much higher than Redmond High. One potential cause is that Redmond’s two high schools began offering the ACT test for free to 11th graders for the first time last school year. However, Burke said, a majority of students in both schools took the ACT, so he wasn’t sure why more of Ridgeview’s juniors stayed away from the state tests.

“In terms of real, hard evidence we can point to say why (students opted out), we don’t have that,” he said.

Despite a solid participation rate, scores at Redmond High were far below the state average: 59.8% of students passed the English test, and 9.3% of students passed the math exam. That marks a decline in students passing for both subjects.

Burke said in response to the low math score, the district has hired a math coach for teachers and students and has pushed more teacher development for the subject across the district.

“We want people to know that we’re taking it seriously and are looking for ways to improve,” he said. “We need to make sure every kid gets past that notion that they’re not good at math.”

How did other Central Oregon students perform?

Out of Central Oregon’s four other school districts, Sisters had the highest opt-out rates, with a relatively low 87% and 85% of students taking the English and math exams, respectively. But the school district’s 11th graders also had the region’s highest rates of passing — 80% of students passed the English exam, and 52.3% passed the math exam.

Jefferson County had the highest average participation rate in Central Oregon, with about 95% of high school students taking the English test and about 94% taking the math test. However, math scores stayed static, with 12.8% of students passing, and English scores went down, with only 52.4% of juniors passing.

More than 90% of Crook County’s 11th graders took both Smarter Balanced tests, with scores staying basically steady. About 70% of high school students passed the English exam and about 27% passed math.

In Culver, where slightly less than 94% of 11th graders took the exam, scores went slightly down. About 61% of juniors passed the English test, and 33% passed math.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854,