In my Friday morning Enhancing Youth Literacy class at Portland State University today, we started our session by taking a look at Oregon’s newly released school ratings. What should we all know about this new system of rating? Oregon was recently granted a No Child Left Behind Act waiver and has now developed its own rating system that includes labels of “priority,” “focus,” and “model” schools. These labels only impact schools receiving Title I anti-poverty funding. Priority schools appear to be the ones in the bottom 5% of achievement; focus schools are those in the bottom 15% of achievement, and model schools are the schools with the best performance that will be used as resources for best practices. Priority and model schools will receive additional state support. It’s a little unclear what that additional state support will look like, but hopefully it will actually be the kind of support these schools need.
Back to my moment in the classroom…
We did a bunch of searches to see how various local schools are doing. We looked at the schools of the students that we have been volunteering with at Upward Bound (Madison, Grant, Roosevelt), we looked at schools that my own students had attended (Reynolds, Clackamas, etc.), and we checked a few schools in neighborhoods that are more affluent to compare them with schools in neighborhoods that struggle economically.
The result? Concern for those schools who have historically done poorly and that continue to do so. Worry for the kids and parents in schools that have struggled so hard. Anxiety for the teachers in those struggling schools. Dispair at graduation rates as low as 20%. And a little bit of hope from the fact that Oregon is now looking at the growth in schools rather than just the scores. If we can focus on growth, encourage more growth, and show kids that they can actually learn and grow, then we’ll be on the right path.
Here are some of the local news stories that have resulted from a first-glance analysis of the data:
- “Portland Schools Get More ‘Focus” on Achievement from State” (Portland Tribune): In this article, education journalist Jennifer Anderson points out that out of the entire state, Portland has 6 priority schools, 6 focus schools, and no model schools.
- “New Oregon School Ratings Show Familiar Patterns bu Highlight Little-Known Schools” (The Oregonian):Here, Beth Hammond talks about the ways the new school ratings show the same kinds of patterns we have seen under the No Child Left Behind ratings system. Schools in higher poverty areas are doing worse than schools in more affluent areas. Schools that serve families who are learning English as a second language are also struggling more than the schools that don’t. Elementary schools are doing better than middle schools; middle schools are doing better than high schools; high schools are struggling. No surprises here. This grim picture has been painted again and again.
Of course, it’s not the data that’s most important in this story — it’s the kids, teachers, and families involved in the school system; it’s the community members who must come together to actually help schools see improvement. If this NCLB waiver really works, we may see growth. Let’s show “priority” schools that they’re not failures and that they’re not “in needs of improvement” — let’s show them that they are our priority in this next school year. Please volunteer, vote to support kids/families in November, become a member of an advocacy organization like Stand for Children (or other similar groups), join the PTA, and/or become a mentor. All of these acts show kids that they are our priority and that they are our focus. Let’s show kids that the change in language isn’t just another empty promise.