In Short

Latest state education report shows low participation, progress

By: - October 7, 2021 6:15 am
Empty classroom

A new analysis of data from Oregon schools during the 2021-22 school year shows statewide school staffing levels are rebounding from pandemic declines, but on-time graduation rates have dropped and chronic absenteeism remains a problem. (Rachel Parsons/Malheur Enterprise)

The Oregon Department of Education took an incomplete on its yearly report card for schools and districts issued Thursday.  

Participation in standardized testing for the 2020-21 school year was down 70% across the state, according to Jon Wiens, the department’s director of accountability. In a press conference held in advance of the At-A-Glance Report release, Wiens said about one out of three schools took part in assessments, and that typical pre-pandemic participation was at about 95%.

Heidi Sipe, superintendent of the Umatilla School District, said school officials didn’t put pressure on students when it came to state testing last year.

“We said, ‘Get in, do it, get out,’” she said. 

She did not require students take the state’s Smarter Balanced, or “SBAC” tests last year. Those tests are given to students in grades 38 and to high school juniors, to measure writing, reading, math and other skills.

Sipe said the district is measuring student learning during the last year by using other data from teachers. 

“We know students didn’t have the growth we wanted over the last 18 months,” Sipe said. “We’re starting meetings about moving forward, accelerating learning, how we can add additional support.”

The state reported that 28% of students were deemed chronically absent last year, an increase of 8%. A student is considered in that category when they miss 10% or more of school days. Because schools vacillated between online and in-person and they measured attendance differently, that percentage is subject to greater scrutiny, according to Wiens. 

Prior to the pandemic, regular school attendance rates in Oregon were at about 80%. This year regular attendance was around 72%. 

In addition to testing results, the At-A-Glance Report includes updated profiles on students and staff in each school and district, as well as the percentage of ninth graders who are on track to graduate from high school. 

A few key takeaways

  • Participation in state standardized testing down 70% last year.
  • 28% of students were chronically absent last year.
  • Oregon’s on-time graduation rate dropped 12% from 2018-19 to 73%. 
  • One-third of Oregon school districts do not have a counselor or school psychologist.

Among staffing gaps, the report revealed a shortage of school counselors, psychologists and librarians. Fully one-third of Oregon school districts do not have a full-time counselor or psychologist and three-quarters of Oregon school districts do not have a licensed librarian. Many of the schools lacking these staff are among districts with the lowest staff counts overall. In an email, the Department of Education noted that schools without licensed librarians tend to employ non-licensed specialists and support staff.

Projections for graduation rates are down a little over 10% from four years ago.

Among high school freshman last year, 73% are on track to graduate in three more years. Those are students who had finished a quarter of the credits they need to graduate by finishing ninth grade and starting their sophomore year. 

Four years ago, 84% of 9th graders had been on track to graduate and in 2020, the four-year graduation rate in the state was at a high of nearly 83%.

The latest report, though incomplete, is slightly more comprehensive than last year’s, which did not include data about statewide testing assessments, ninth grade on-track graduation rates or attendance. The Department of Education cautioned against making big comparisons between this years’ student assessment data and that of years prior due to inconsistency in reporting and participation among schools during the pandemic.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.