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Schools Get Their Grades

POLK COUNTY -- Results were mixed for Polk County schools as the Oregon Department of Education released its revamped 2012-13 school report cards last week.Perrydale School, Monmouth Elementary School, LaCreole Middle School and all three elementary schools in Dallas received the highest marks in the county under the new format. Kings Valley Charter School, which serves a large percentage of Polk County students and is located in northern Benton County, also received high marks.Independence Elementary School and Falls City High School were on the opposite end of the spectrum, receiving rankings of Level 2 and Level 1, respectively, on the new five-level ranking system.Schools also were graded as "above average," "about average" and "below average" in comparison with other schools of similar size and student demographics. Graphic by Karyn Pressel Schools in the Itemizer-Observer's coverage area were rated anywhere from a Level 1, the lowest ranking possible, to a Level 4, the second best rating possible. Falls City High School, according to the report, has the lowest ranking of schools in the county. FCHS was ranked a Level 1 school, putting it among the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.Superintendent Jack Thompson said the low ranking was expected and changes are already in place as a result."We acknowledge that we've got some work to do," Thompson said.Those changes include incorporation of more technology in the classroom and a new science teacher and special education teacher.Low graduation rates remain an issue, with the 2011-12 rate (the most recent statistics available) at 47.6 percent. State test results also hurt FCHS.Students meeting reading test benchmarks at the high school lagged behind state averages only slightly at 83 percent and exceeded averages in writing at about 67 percent. However, only 14 percent met math standards and not enough students took the science exam to report results. Thompson noted the school took a big hit in failing to have 95 percent of students take the test, something easy to do at tiny Falls City. Jack Thompson Thompson said he is concerned about the perception the low rating creates."I truly don't believe we are at a Level 1," he said. "If you were to come into the school and see what the kids are doing ... these are bright kids and they are learning a lot. To categorize it in that fashion is not representative."But we are acknowledging it," he added. "We will be making some changes and will try to do better."Falls City Elementary School received a Level 3 rating. Thompson said updated curriculum in math and reading should help boost the elementary ranking in future years.The 2012-13 report card results were no surprise to Central School District Superintendent Buzz Brazeau, but that isn't to say he's satisfied with the results.Since Brazeau's arrival in the district, there has been improvement in some areas and dropoffs in others.Graduation rates at Central High have increased one percentage point to 66.1 percent over the previous year.Also at CHS, dropout rates declined to 3.6 percent, down from 5.8 the year before. Buzz Brazeau "Graduation rates are one of those tough things," Brazeau said. "In visiting with Greg Mitchell (CHS principal), he's got some ideas for things we might be able to adjust to help kids."Monmouth Elementary scored the highest in the Central School District with a state-average Level 4 rating, while Independence Elementary scored lowest with a Level 2."There are a lot of things we do every year to try and improve, we could try and find all kinds of excuses as to why," Steve Tillery, IES principal, said. "We've been looking at how we write our goals as a building and as teachers in the classroom."With the implementation of the district's after-school program set to begin by the end of the month, Tillery is hoping it will be the catalyst to boosting test scores and overall school performance.The three other schools in the district, Ash Creek Elementary, Talmadge Middle School and CHS, all received a slightly below-average Level 3 ranking."We'll see improvement next year," Brazeau said. "I think we'll see significant improvement the following year."Dallas High School scored a Level 3 and ranked "below average" to similar schools, mostly due to a low graduation rate of 52.9 percent. The low mark stems from the school's Extended Campus program that allows students to temporarily forgo their diploma to enroll in Chemeketa Community College free of charge. Those students, 60 of them last year, met graduation requirements, Dallas High Principal Steve Spencer said."Our internal records show that is a success and we want to continue that program," Spencer said.He said he does have concerns about writing test results, as only 45 percent of students have met state standards. A lack of improvement was reflected in this year's ranking and has led the school to implement more intensive interventions."I would certainly love to see the numbers be higher, but they are about what we expected them to be," Spencer said. Steve Spencer Cory Bradshaw, the district's director of instructional services and a DHS assistant principal, said the school's 2011-12 dropout rate inched up slightly to 1.7 percent, well below the state average of 3.4 percent, but still cause for concern."Our aim, of course, is to get that down to zero," she said.LaCreole Middle School and Whitworth, Lyle and Oakdale Heights elementary schools all received scores of Level 4.Luckiamute Valley Charter School's ranking, a Level 3, is comparatively lower than the school has been rated in recent years. Executive Director Dan Austin said he believes it is the by-product of rapid enrollment increases. He said some of the new students were behind their peers academically, which affected the heavily weighted academic growth category."Growth is awesome, but growth always has a price," Austin said, adding the school uses monitoring and interventions for students at all levels to improve outcomes.Perrydale School District, which perennially receives high marks from the state, scored an overall Level 4 rating compared to schools statewide during the 2012-13 period."We have small classes, so we're able to focus on those kids pretty hard," Robin Stoutt, Perrydale superintendent, said. "We know all of them personally. That's harder to do at bigger schools."One of the low marks for Perrydale was 57.1 percent of students continuing their education after high school. Photo by Jolene Guzman Dallas High School teacher Steve Dickerson leads a discussion in his senior civics class on Tuesday. DHS earned a Level 3 grade in the state's 2012-13 school report card. The state looks at students who are enrolled in a four-year school or community college within 16 months of high school graduation."One thing in that number is we have a lot of kids going into the military," said Sheila McCartney, Perrydale High School principal. "They (ODE) don't count that as training."Like Perrydale, Kings Valley Charter School received a Level 4 ranking and compared favorably to similar schools in the state. Director Mark Hazelton said the high marks are the result of the school's effort to foster academic growth, receiving an overall Level 5 rating in that category. That means it ranks in the top 10 percent of schools in the state.Hazelton said the school missed a Level 5 ranking likely because of lower marks on academic achievement. One area of concern is high-school level writing -- now a graduation requirement. The school now includes a "writing lab" for students needing assistance."We will continue to focus on (academic) growth," Hazelton said. "If we are in the top 10 percent of schools on academic growth, we don't want to change anything." What the rankings mean: The overall (Level 1 through Level 5) ranking compares the school to all others in the state.* Level 1 schools rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. * Level 2 schools represent the next lowest 10 percent.* Level 3 makes up the next 30 percent of schools. * Level 4 represents the largest share of schools, those that fall between 46 percent and 90 percent of schools.* Level 5 schools represent the top 10 percent.A school with an overall rating of Level 4 or Level 5 is generally considered above average. Those at the low end of Level 4 would be considered average, while those with a rating of Level 3 or lower would be below average. What the school comparisons mean: The "above average," "about average" and "below average" grades denote how a school compares to others with similar student demographics. What is included in the report card:* A letter from the principal or superintendent.* More detailed district and school profiles.* Student performance over time.* Outcomes by student group.* Information on curriculum and learning environment.* For high schools, data includes graduation, completer (those who complete high school, but in longer than four years) and dropout rates, percent of freshmen on track to graduate, and percent of students going on to college.For more information, or to see school district report cards, go to www.ode.state.or.us.data/reportcard/reports.aspx.Source: Oregon Department of Education

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