New Oregon School Ratings: Let’s Show Kids They Truly Are a “Priority”

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.  

Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection: NCLB, School Report Cards, and Inadequate School Funding As Unconstitutional?

This was my first week back in the classroom after winter break, and it has been incredibly busy.  I’m juggling a five-course teaching load, a new position as a service learning faculty coordinator, and being with my two small children.  However, I still have time to sneak in some light reading and conversing on some of the big things happening in schools this week.  And I figure that presenting this small buffet of readings is a good way to share this intellectual food with you as well.  Happy reading!

  • Learn More About Schools in Your Neighborhood:  The annual school report cards and AYP reports are out and online.  Go to this link to find out more about schools in your neighborhood.
  • Keep Informed About Oregon’s NCLB Waiver Application:  Oregon is still in the process of applying for the NCLB waiver.  And the state is seeking public input.  Let the state know your thoughts on their proposed application. The linked article includes information on filling out the community survey.
  • Track Charter Schools: Charter schools are incredibly controversial and rightly so.  While many tout charter schools as the answer to failing public school education, many (including myself) feel that charter schools don’t solve the problem for so many students in schools that are underfunded and unsupported.  If charter schools take just 3% of Oregon students, they can’t possibly be the answer, can they?  With that said, some Oregon districts are applying for charter schools because they are much more flexible in some important ways.  This is something to track as we watch how Oregon communities deal with their struggling schools.
  • Washington State’s supreme court has deemed Washington’s underfunding of schools unconstitutional.  Check out this interview on Think Out Loud for some details on this.
  • If you haven’t read this article yet, it’s a significant one on the radar of those of us who are tracking developments in ideas surrounding teacher assessment.  Check it out.

What Fits in Your Pocket & Makes You Smarter? Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection & Inspiration for a More Active 2012

Dear All:

I’ve been caught up in the hustle and bustle of prepping classes for winter term and making gifts for Christmas.  While I’ve been reading about education issues in between feeding my 8-month-old and playing blocks with my 2-year-old, I haven’t been posting, and it’s time to share this information with you:

  1. Oregon did not receive a federal Race to the Top grant but did come closer than with its first application.  This seems to be a sign that Oregon is doing more research and asking the community for more feedback, but we’re clearly still lacking in some areas that are required to receive this grant money.
  2. There are changes afoot in Oregon’s open enrollment law for schools.
  3. More and more children are slipping below the poverty line in Oregon, and many are going hungry.  Think about donating some time to an organization that fights hunger.
  4. Great News! Gustavo Alvarez gets a reprieve and is not deported — thank you to all of you who signed the petition, called in, and supported the ideas behind the DREAM Act.
  5. Superintendent Carol Smith released her recommendations for boundary changes for PPS.  What are your reactions?  How do you think the Alameda Neighborhood Association will respond?  Attend a hearing on January 9 to get more details and to provide feedback.  What do you think about Smith’s process to arrive at these recommendations?  Are you satisfied with the level of community involvement?

What’s really important to think about as we end this year and begin another?  How we can live and participate in our communities in ways that support kids and families.  Here are some ideas to get you thinking and acting in simple but important ways:

  • Oregon is seeking feedback on the state’s NCLB waiver application.  You can send in your feedback now and be part of the process of opting out of NCLB’s oppressive regulations.  If you are fed up with NCLB or just want to see more innovative ways of teaching and assessing, your feedback is needed!
  • If you’re interested in being part of conversations about the achievement gap and how to support policies and actions that help narrow the gap, join with Stand for Children, the Black Parent Initiative, REAP, and the Oregon Chamber of Commerce to get involved.  Send Emily Nazarov an email at enazarov@stand.or.
  • Join the Chalkboard Project’s Citizen Corp, join the upcoming virtual brown bag on the importance of educator assessment, or just subscribe to their informative blog on local education issues to stay informed.
  • Register for the MLK day of service here.
  • Find a more long-term or several short-term community-based projects to dedicate some time to in 2012 by visiting Hands on Portland.
  • Make an end-of-the-year donation to an organization like Donors Choose, which allows educators to fundraise for class projects and supplies.
  • Spend quality time with the children in your life!

I’ll be posting more after the Christmas holiday as we head toward the New Year and the opportunity to envision a 2012 of community involvement!

Happy Winter,


Governor Kitzhaber Wants Your Feedback: Preparing Oregon’s NCLB Waiver Submission

Oregon is preparing to apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind.  What does this mean?  It could mean more flexibility for schools and teachers and a greater focus on learning rather than testing.  That’s the potential here.  In order to find out what Oregonians want for their students and teachers and schools, Kitzhaber is surveying the public and will use the input in the preparation of documents required for submission of the NCLB Waiver application.  

I gave this link in a previous blog post but thought some of you might be even more interested with the knowledge that this input will be used to apply for the NCLB waiver.  With so much discontent surrounding NCLB, take a little time to give your feedback…click here to submit your input!

Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection: Economic Turning, the Good & Bad Revealed Through Testing, Arts Learning, & MLK Day of Service

As the school term winds down, some of you will have a little more time to read in your down time.  And for those of us who continue on the grind, we probably still have time to fit in a little update on education issues, right?  Here’s your easy-access collection of the week:

  • The connection between Portland’s reduced incomes and the impact on Portland schools and public services is explored.  I’m planning a later post on this…important stuff!
  • Read a recent study on how urban students have faired on standardized math tests.  There have been some improvements and some areas where improvement on the needed scale has yet to come.  For those of us who are educators or who have been in classrooms, the quote from a student about how he learns best when “learning is fun” should not come as a shock…but the continued emphasis on testing and drilling for the test in light of the fact that students learn best when engaged with the materials does seem shocking.
  • In light of the previous article, take a look at this Edutopia post about how to use student data to improve teaching practices.  For teachers out there, this is a must read.
  • With so many cuts to school programming, is this one answer?  Substitute recess for arts learning?  As someone who comes from a family of artists and musicians (and as someone who always hated recess as a child), this has some appeal.  What do you all think?
  • PSU (along with many other local universities) will be spending the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday serving in the community.  More specifically, PSU is dedicating its service to Roosevelt High School, which is right in my neighborhood and which will also be one of our community partners this winter.  This is a day off for so many of us…and is the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community as a one-time day of service or to jumpstart a New Year’s resolution to practice weekly community-based work.   Register through the above link!  I’ll be promoting this day of service throughout the next two months and hope to see you all there!

“Make It Happen Monday”: Input on Future Student Assessment in Oregon

After a wonderful holiday and weekend spent giving thanks with my family and having rowdy discussions about the future of education in our country (we had five educators at the Thanksgiving table), I have been thinking a lot about what action really looks like.  What can it look like to actively support education in our community?  The truth is that support for education takes many forms.  One is hands-on service.  Another is political action.  While this is a crazily busy time of year with other holidays approaching, finals week looming, and more, it is possible to continue to act in support of education.

Check out this link to a survey from Governor Kitzhaber that asks community members to weigh in on what’s most important to them when it comes to assessing student growth and achievement.  This input will be taken into account when they develop the new model of measuring what student success looks like.  Yes, it’s a little step in the right direction, and it does count!  Please take a minute to thoughtfully consider what assessment should look like in our communities!