Oregon students lost ground in reading, writing and math over the past year, according to test results released Thursday.
Particularly in the elementary grades, fewer students achieved proficiency on end-of-year exams designed to show whether they are on track to be ready for college and the world of work.
No grade level showed substantial improvement from 2016.
Clatsop County schools mirrored the state, with most grades showing declines in college and career readiness in English, language arts, mathematics and science.
Astoria fifth- and 11th-graders largely outperformed the state average in English and language arts but fell behind in math, with a third- or fewer students college and career ready.
Seaside fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders outperformed the state average on English and language arts, but fewer than 30 percent of those grade levels reached proficiency in mathematics. Warrenton-Hammond students fell behind on English and language arts but nearly matched state averages in mathematics, especially in later grades.
How well Oregon schools prepared high school juniors, who have just a year before they face college or the job market, was less than clear. Roughly 6,000 students, or about 15 percent of the junior class, skipped the tests, which are more demanding than the previous generation of year-end exams. That was a tad more than ducked testing in 2016.
The new tests, titled Smarter Balanced, were developed by a consortium of 13 states to measure reading, writing, listening, math and reasoning skills that panels of teachers, professors, employers and other experts agreed were needed at each grade level.
Overall, in the three years the exams have been given, students in Oregon and most other states have struggled to reach the standards they set.
This year, roughly 60 percent of Oregon public school students fell short in mathematics as did 45 percent in reading and writing. It was the worst showing yet by Oregon schools, particularly in language arts.
Statewide, all four major race and ethnic groups — whites, Latinos, Asians and blacks — registered lower proficiency rates than in 2016. Scores for Asian-American students, already the top-performing group, dipped least; scores among white students fell the most.
How well students performed on the Smarter Balanced tests this year will be the primary factor driving the school performance ratings that the Oregon Department of Education plans to issue in October.
But those ratings will require a more sophisticated determination than whether a school posted low, average or high scores. Instead, the ratings will be based primarily on how much the school helped individual students progress in English and in math from where that particular student scored a year or two before. Performance ratings also give extra weight to how well schools succeed with students who historically have struggled in Oregon schools: minorities, low-income students, those with disabilities and students still learning English as a second language.
Very few Oregon students still learning to master English do well on the exams, which require reading complex passages and following multistep math instructions. But a higher share of them registered as proficient on both English and math exams this year, making them the only demographic group to show strong gains.
Smarter Balanced tests are designed to measure how well students have been taught to master the Common Core State Standards, a set of rigorous expectations for reading, writing, math and reasoning skills adopted by nearly all U.S. states.
Still, the tests have remained controversial. At some Oregon schools, parents or students decide that it’s best for the student to sit them out. That’s particularly true at some schools where students generally do well on standardized tests.
This year, only 16 percent of juniors at Portland’s Cleveland High, known for its academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program, took the math portion of the test. More than half the juniors at Lake Oswego High and Portland’s Wilson High skipped one or both exams, and nearly half skipped both subjects at Portland’s Grant High.
Students at Lake Oswego and some other schools organized to urge fellow students to boycott the tests. They say they do a poor job of measuring readiness for college. They also complain they place an undue burden on juniors, given that many take the ACT, the SAT, Advanced Placement exams and other standardized tests that year.
Test-taking rates among elementary pupils were generally very high. But dozens of Portland-area elementary schools — mostly ones in comfortably middle-class Portland neighborhoods — fell short of testing 95 percent of students.
Edward Stratton of The Daily Astorian contributed to this story.