Knappa students struggle on state tests

Knappa students struggled mightily on last year’s state aptitude tests in English language arts, math and science compared to their peers in Clatsop County and across the state.

Students begin taking the Smarter Balanced assessment each spring in third grade through high school. The assessment is meant to track whether students are on track academically for college or workforce training. A score of three or four in each subject indicates a student is on track.

Fewer than 35 percent of Knappa students were on track in English language arts, compared to nearly 55 percent statewide and at least half in the Astoria, Warrenton-Hammond and Seaside school districts, according to data from the state Department of Education.

In math, just over 18 percent of Knappa students were on track, compared to between 30 and 40 percent statewide and in other county school districts. Between 57 and 63 percent of Astoria, Seaside and Warrenton-Hammond students were on track in science, compared to less than 40 percent in Knappa.

Paulette Johnson, the school superintendent in Knappa, said the tests are only a moment in time that does not define the school district.

“I am more concerned that our students are growing and learning,” she said. “We assess growth in our students three times a year, and those numbers are in the 80s and 90s.

“No student should be defined by a one-time test. We also need to stop comparing our district to other districts. There are many differences, opportunities and uniqueness that define each district in the county and state. If people believe that Knappa or any other district is this test then they don’t know Knappa or their own district very well.”

Behind the test, Knappa struggles with student apathy, changing state and federal mandates and assessments, and having the necessary money to hire, retain and send teachers for professional development, Johnson said.

“Every district struggles with math,” she said. “We have been working on curriculum in every grade level, but when we don’t have the finances to purchase all of the needed curriculum at once, it is hard to implement.”

Seaside and Warrenton students improved last year across the board in English language arts, math and science. Warrenton students outperformed state averages in science, the only such instance of county students besting their peers statewide.

Oregon has struggled since switching several years ago from the multiple-choice Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to the Smarter Balanced assessment, a more rigorous aptitude test aligned with national Common Core State Standards. Overall test scores have stagnated and remained behind many other states. While students statewide improved their performance in English language arts last year, performance dropped in science and math.

“Annual tests give us a snapshot of student learning, but there is more we should be doing to give teachers the tools to target complex thinking in students,” Colt Gill, director of the state Department of Education, said in a news release. “Shorter, more focused testing throughout the year can give teachers insights into activities than can help students think and work out problems. That is how we get better results.”

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