Warrenton students shine in state report cards

Students in Warrenton did well on school report cards.

Students in the Warrenton-Hammond School District once again rose to the top academically among Clatsop County schools in state report cards.

The accountability reports measure competency in English language arts and math, along with progress on metrics such as attendance and graduation.

The state Department of Education came under fire after The Oregonian revealed a plan by state schools chief Colt Gill not to release the already completed report cards until after the November election. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who appointed Gill, is in a hotly contested race with state Rep. Knute Buehler, a Republican who has criticized her response to the state’s chronically poor academic performance.

Brown ordered the release of the report cards on Wednesday.

Warrenton was the only school district in the county to post a high rating in terms of the academic progress of students between the third and eighth grades. That included high marks for low-income students and average academic progress for Hispanic and multiracial students.

“While we are pleased with the data, and excited about the trends, we agree there is more work that needs to be done and that our numbers, which are close to or exceed the state average, still have plenty of room for improvement,” said Mark Jeffery, the school superintendent in Warrenton.

Warrenton’s academic prowess was most pronounced in math, where half of the district’s eighth graders met or exceeded grade-level competency, compared to 41 percent statewide, 33 percent in Seaside, 32 percent in Astoria, 22 percent in Knappa and 21 percent in Jewell.

Tom Rogozinski, principal of the Warrenton Grade School, said the district has over the past three years shifted its schedules and doubled the time spent in math. Every student in third-through-eighth grade now receives 90 minutes of math instruction daily.

“Our philosophy was we wanted to make sure kids had the foundational skills they needed,” he said. “We really also wanted to make sure we had time for the application side of things.”

CC Travers, an eighth-grade math teacher, said the longer classes allow her to get creative, using activities like Rubik’s Cubes and computer coding to apply students’ education to the real world.

Travers also credits the younger grades for focusing on fact fluency and problem-solving, better preparing students before they reach her class. The district also identifies advanced learners and allows them to take a math class one or more grade levels up. About one-third of the district’s eighth graders take high school algebra classes.

Warrenton’s third graders also vastly outperformed their peers in the county and statewide in English language arts competency, with 69 percent meeting or exceeding state standards, compared to 51 percent in Astoria, 47 percent statewide, 42 percent in Seaside, 18 percent in Jewell and 11 percent in Knappa.

Academic competency is based on students’ scores in the Smarter Balanced annual statewide exam. The district tries to embed good test-taking skills into its curriculum while also striking a balance toward diverse academic offerings, Rogozinski said.

“We’re not teaching students to learn to the test, but to respond to any academic challenge,” he said.

Despite Knappa students’ struggles to meet math and English competency, they were by far the most on-track toward completion in the ninth grade — 89 percent — and most likely to finish high school on time — 91 percent — in the 2016-17 school year. The district graduated all Hispanic students on time that year, along with three-quarters of those considered low-income, and 71 percent of students with disabilities.

Knappa’s graduation rate was the only one to outstrip the state average of 77 percent in 2016-17, compared with 75 percent in Warrenton, 75 percent in Jewell, 67 percent in Seaside and 63 percent in Astoria.

Paulette Johnson, the school superintendent in Knappa, said the district has focused on checking students’ attendance and grades every quarter to ensure they are on track.

There are also multiple assessment options the district uses to help students meet the requirements for graduation, she said.

“The function of school is to get our students ready for the real world no matter the pathway,” Johnson said. “We are doing that.”

Jewell, a rural school district, had the highest attendance rate at more than 95 percent. Astoria, which has placed a focus on attendance with a publicity campaign, reached 87 percent, compared to 83 percent in Warrenton, 83 percent statewide, 76 percent in Knappa and 74 percent in Seaside.