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Testing Less May Be Cause Of Lower Scores For Oregon Students

Fewer Oregon schools met state benchmarks on standardized tests last year -- according to a state report released Thursday.

Students struggled on math, writing, and science tests at every grade level. Only high school reading showed improvement.

Deputy superintendent Rob Saxton suggests a few possible explanations. For instance, students used to take the tests up to three times. Last year, students were limited to taking them once or twice.

"The more attempts you get at something, the more likely you are to accomplish it, I don't care what it is -- if it's jumping over a high jump bar, or taking a test. The more chances I get, the better opportunity I have to accomplish it. So, yes, the percent of meeting or exceeding will go down a little bit."

Saxton notes that the average scores didn't go down, but stayed flat. He theorizes teachers may be helping students more equitably - rather than emphasizing kids just below standard.

The federal government has been allowing Oregon to judge schools on more than just the proportion of students hitting a fixed benchmark. How much students improve now plays a bigger role.

Starting next school year, students will take a new state assessment. They'll have only one shot at it, in Spring 2015.

Saxton says the test results Oregonians see in two years will likely look bad. But he says those tests -- and their connection to new national standards called the Common Core -- are a better indicator of how prepared students are for life after high school.

"I think it tells people the truth about whether or not their child is really ready to be successful as an adult. So it's an appropriate set of standards, but the first time we assess against those standards, it's going to be really tough to look at the results," Saxton says.

About 60 to 70 percent of students typically pass any of the state's standardized tests -- though the rates are lower for poor and minority students.

Saxton predicts that in two years, when the state completes the shift to the Common Core, only 35 to 45 percent of students will pass the tests.

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting