The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Audrey Caro Gomez
Of The New Era 

SH schools test below state average


September 13, 2016

Overall the Sweet Home School District scored below the state average on the Smarter Balanced state assessment, according to data released by the Oregon Department of Education Thursday.

“Right now what’s been published are the percentages of students meeting grade-level standards,” said Tom Yahraes, SHSD superintendent. “Those that are proficient and those that are not.”

Superintendents usually present information to their boards in October, Yahraes said, because that is when they will have more information from the state.

Growth rates are part of the information he is waiting for – data that indicate year-to-year progress.

Next month, he plans to do a comprehensive data analysis to look at a seven-year span for trends, either up or down.

He has looked at information from previous years though.

In comparing 2014-15 scores to 2015-16, he said, in general, the state average is higher than Sweet Home’s average in every category tested in both language arts and math.

“I’m also seeing the widest achievement gaps to meet the state average are third grade, fourth grade and fifth grade,” Yahraes said. “(In those grade-levels) there is the widest gap in meeting the state average and the gap goes anywhere between 10- and 20 percent off the state average.”

But he also has seen some successes.

In sixth-grade math, for example, Sweet Home’s average is 75 percent and the state’s is 39 percent.

“Also in science, we are above the state average in high school,” Yahraes said.

Yahraes will give a formal presentation to the board in October, but he is thinking about ways to address the low scores.

“For sure when I look at the data, we need to, across the board, try to do a better job of targeting core standards and understanding the quality and rigor of that standard per grade level,” Yahraes said. “We need to work on instructional engagement of these standards. We need to examine our instructional time and use of it and make adjustments where needed for students.”

One of the ways the district is hoping to improve instruction is by including teachers in the decision-making process.

“We’re creating this year an Academic Teacher Leadership Team that will help me make informed decisions on how to best use our instructional time, improve our engagement and target our grade-level standards more effectively,” Yahraes said.

Positions were posted a couple of weeks ago, he said, and the School District has had some teachers step up to participate.

Each elementary school building will have two teachers involved in the team. The junior high will have three, and the high school will have four.

“These teacher academic leaders will work with the district office as a team so we can work on what I view as islands of instruction that are taking place,” Yahraes said. “Find out which islands are working well, which islands aren’t, and we can become united in using the most effective instruction and pushing out from there.”

He said the team will use the collaborative work time on Fridays.

“In looking at the published data that’s available now and last year’s data, it certainly does seem like we need to provide more resources to our elementary instructional staff and target these early learning experiences,” Yahraes said. “The data shows that we’re performing below average in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. It’s critical in those early years that we do the best we can to get students performing at grade level.”

When Yahraes was a principal at school in Terrabonne, they were not meeting their Annual Yearly Progress.

“Some of the first things we did was target the standards, understand the quality and rigor of the core standards in a class and refine our instruction.” Yahraes said.

In two years, they came within a .6 percentage point of becoming a model school, he said.

“Students performed at state level and well above state level averages in sub groups also,” he added.

That success is part of what gives him hope that Sweet Home can improve.

“It’s clear that across the board there’s pockets of fantastic stuff going on but generally speaking across the board, as a staff, as an administrative team, as teachers, as support teachers, we can do better for our kids to help prepare them for training, career and colleges beyond 12th grade,” Yahraes said.

Yahraes reported the initial data to the board Monday evening.

“We have all the right ingredients to lift this district up,” Yahraes said. “This community cares. The volunteerism, the heart is there. We have the passion. We just need to get organized. We need to analyze the system.”

Board member Carol Babcock said she would like to see how Sweet Home did compared to similar districts, with similar demographics.

Yahraes said he would bring that information back, but “I like to think Sweet Home can compete across the state, no matter what the demographics are. We can exceed (the state averages).”

Board member Chanz Keeney said that school report cards often show “outstanding” schools in some years and poor test performance in others. The tests keep changing, and that’s confusing.

Now, “we’re down,” Keeney said. “But I know, Sweet Home does an excellent job.”

Keeney last month mentioned the number of students who have to take high school level math classes when they enroll at community college.

Yahraes addressed that comment Monday night, saying the district needed to focus resources on the younger children, to make sure they get the math as they grow up so they don’t have to take remedial classes.

Sean C. Morgan contributed to this story.


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