Officials: Test scores show academic growth

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Schools Supt. Tom Yahraes and Rachel Stucky, director of teaching and learning, say last year’s testing data shows academic growth among Sweet Home’s students.

More data will be available Oct. 11 when the state releases district report cards, Stucky said.

The previous year’s data showed a lot less growth, Yahraes said. “Their achievement is increasing as well as where we are with state benchmarks.”

“Foster did really well, and now they’re doing even better,” he said. That’s one of the biggest highlights.

The school was at the top in terms of state assessment testing among elementary schools last year, and it continued to see growth in math and language arts this year.

“When I came to Sweet Home it’s been articulated to me that Foster has the highest homelessness,” Yahraes said. “It has the highest free and reduced lunches (and indicator of low income).”

Additionally, Holley Elementary School, which was second to last in terms of state testing grew substantially in math, language arts and science.

At the elementary level, “individual growth scores are tremendous,” Yahraes said. “When we studied the data, the elementary performance was declined around the same time as the four-day week. We recognized that we needed to put more time and resources toward the elementary.”

Going to a five-day school week last school year increased instructional continuity, Yahraes said. That affects younger students more, and the district is now seeing upward trends.

“They’ve (teachers and staff) worked so very, very hard, and this just indicates everything is coming together,” Stucky said. It illustrates how everyone, including parents and students, are coming together and working together.

District staff have been working on a number of initiatives at all levels over the past two years, including the additional elementary level resources and a return to the five-day week last year. By the end of the year, the district and School Board had developed a Strategic Plan.

“The Strategic Plan really stacked everything together,” Yahraes said.

The plan is about what the students, staff and community wanted, Stucky said. “It’s a reflection of what people were asking for.”

“We laid out the foundation last year, and we are pulling in the same direction,” Yahraes said. “We’re looking at some of the systems that we need for best practices in instruction.”

The Professional Learning Communities, groups of teachers who analyze data and recommend improvements, are working together in different ways, at their grade level, in their content areas and vertically with nearby grade levels, Yahraes said. “We know that culturally, we all need to be moving in the same direction as well, understanding the needs of our families and our students and our staff. We stand for having a can-do attitude here in Sweet Home.”

The pockets of success identified by the district in the past couple of years are growing, and the district is looking to them to help address areas that are lagging behind.

At Oak Heights, for example, the number of students meeting the standard in math declined from 25.6 percent in 2016-17 to 22.2 percent in 2017-18. (The school improved by 4.2 percent to 31 percent in language arts.)

“We’re going to share out best practices across the board among our elementaries,” Yahraes said. The district is implementing a new “response to intervention” process.

“It’s unified right now,” Stucky said. Everyone is using the same terminology and practices when they interven with struggling students.

“Oak Heights staff is so committed to trying things differently; they’re one of the few where all the staff have been trained,” Stucky said, noting few other teachers have been trained so far in the other schools.

“It’s really about taking a look at every child’s uniqueness,” Stucky said. Rather than looking at “intervention,” the district wants to focus on the needs of individual students and meet them. Teachers are learning how to make their schedules more flexible, with students moving fluidly among different classes for variable periods for different reasons.

A student may spend a couple of weeks in another teacher’s class, for example, to pick up support where they need it.

“The teachers are working hard to collaborate with each other and not work in isolation,” Stucky said. They share students, and they change the ways they teach: “It’s not about what I taught. It’s about what they learned.”

It’s about whatever it takes to get them to learn, she said. The district is moving away from the older model “and looking at fluidity.”

Yahraes said Stucky has been instrumental in working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam to bring a new Community Learning Centers program to Sweet Home. The district previously had one located at Foster School, directed by Rich Little from 2005 to 2011. The new one will be housed at Oak Heights.

“The CLC will offer two hours of extra programs for identified kids,” Yahraes said.

The elementary level of the program is focused on fifth and sixth grades, Stucky said, “which is where we are seeing a real need.”

That age group is where the district needs to put on a full-court press, Yahraes said, preparing the students for junior high and high school and getting them to graduation.

“The placement is something we consider strategic,” Yahraes said. While open to struggling students across the district, it will initially draw from Oak Heights.

The district is focusing on the high school, which has the highest percentage of students in the district meeting the standard in language arts, is in the middle of the pack in science and math but saw slight declines in all three subjet ares last year, math, language arts and science.

“I’m very optimistic with the high school systems that are in place,” Yahraes said. “This year, we have a lot of targeted interventions for specific areas of need.”

The high school has a new freshman team, a group of teachers who provide a coordinated effort to support students during their freshman year, Yahraes said. Success in the freshman year indicates a higher likelihood of graduation.

A new care team is working with students to take care of credit deficiencies and credit recovery, Yahraes said. The district implemented a new summer school program and is looking at alternative education options.

The district has enriched the curriculum, adding new career and technical education pathways, Yahraes said. Students in those programs come to school more often and graduate at higher rates.

PLCs are developing “more frequent formative assessments” to help the district identify student needs and address them, he said. The more frequent assessments allow educators to adjust as they go along.

Said Stucky: “You can have an autopsy at the end of the year, or you can have checkups throughout the year to monitor your health and programs.”

An attendance team is stepping up its game after beginning tardy sweeps last year to ensure students are in classes and not in the halls.

“The high school has a lot of programs going on,” Yahraes said. “I really see next year being really exciting.”

“I feel like our staff needs to be acknowledged,” Stucky said.

“I’m just really pleased with the district, our staff coming together to continuously improve instruction,” Yahraes said. “It really feels that in Sweet Home, we’re on a collective move, and we’re executing right now all four pillars of the Strategic Plan.”

The district is striving for excellence, Yahraes said.

“And growth,” Stucky added. It’s not just about the state assessment test. It’s about the tests, the “formative assessments,” in between the annual state test, allowing teachers to adjust so students can learn more.

“It’s about what they do every day,” Stucky said.