Testing scores mixed for area schools; state report card to come out in JanuaryFewer than half of Oregon's 10th-graders are able to write an essay at their grade level, according to new data released today by the state Department of Education.

Only 48 percent of the high school sophomores met writing standards, down from 54 percent in 2003, a 6 percent decline that state school Superintendent Susan Castillo said is a serious concern.

At Astoria High School, 39 percent of students met or exceeded standards set in writing. However, 41 percent of students met standards conditionally, meaning they were inches away from passing the writing requirement. Those students can prove proficiency by providing another scored work sample.

"Typically I think our high school teachers do a really good job with kids in writing," said Marilyn Lane, director of instructional services.

Writing scores at Astoria Middle School improved 8 percent since the last time students were tested in 2002, but still only hit a 25 percent success rate.

"We'd still like to see a whole lot more kids meeting the standard," Lane said.

The number of 10th-graders at Seaside High School who passed the writing portion was also below the state average - just 33 percent. However 41 percent of students met the standards conditionally. Schools on the North Coast were studying scores today and many area administrators had not seen them.

Other scores released today charted student progress in math problem solving and science, at the fifth-, eighth- and 10th-grade levels.

Science scores - which ask 10th-graders questions such as how to best identify the way substances change from a solid to a liquid state - remained at essentially the same levels as 2002, the last year all three grades were tested.

In Seaside 66 percent of high school students passed the science portion. Astoria had 73 percent of its 10th-graders pass, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. The state averaged 59 percent.

Oregon fifth-graders posted a solid showing in math problem solving, with 44 percent meeting state standards, up from 37 percent in 2002.

This year's results in these three areas are the first ones available in two years for fifth and eighth grades. Testing in science, writing and math problem solving was suspended for the 2002-03 school year because of statewide budget cuts.

But next year, very few grades will escape the testing. Under the federal No Child Left Behind program, the Bush administration's centerpiece education law, students in all grades from third to eighth grade will take the tests along with 10th-graders.

The federal law aims to track schools by measuring the progress their students make on standardized tests. Federally funded schools whose students fail to make significant progress face a series of sanctions.

These results are also the last in a long line of Oregon testing data traditionally released throughout August, just before the new school year begins.

Taken as a whole, all of the August scholastic data can seem bewildering: How can Oregon students again be among the top performers nationally on the SAT college entrance exam while the data show that about 40 percent of the state's schools need improvement?

The answer centers on how results are calculated. For example, the SAT is self-selective - it's taken only by about half of Oregon students, most of them college-bound.

By comparison, the percentage of Oregon schools on the federal government's watch list is calculated by a complicated formula that can land a school in the "needing improvement" category even if one single group of students - English language learners, perhaps, or special education kids - fails to meet target standards in a single area.

The method of measuring school performance that is widely considered the most comprehensive in Oregon is the "report card" the state issues for individual schools in January. Those rankings consider a range of data, including school attendance numbers, improvement in test scores and the number of safety-related expulsions.

Schools receive one of five rankings: unacceptable, low, satisfactory, strong or exceptional.

Last year, the vast majority of Oregon's schools received a rating of either satisfactory, strong or exceptional on the state report cards.


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