State's school report card formula frustrates local officials

By Chris Collins October 15, 2012 09:29 am

By Chris Collins

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Superintendent Walt Wegener turns to a quote attributed to Mark Twain — “There are liars, damned liars and statisticians”  — to express his opinion about the state Department of Education’s rating system for Oregon schools.

Wegener and Jerry Peacock, Baker High School principal, are frustrated by a system that they say makes it difficult for schools that have done well on state tests in the past to maintain a top rating even as student performance remains high.

For example, BHS dropped to an overall rating of “satisfactory” on its 2011-12 School Report Card released by the state last week. 

The administrators say BHS had little chance to remain outstanding under the state’s convuluted rating system.

“If you’re doing well enough that you can’t improve and if you don’t improve, they can’t let you stay outstanding,” Wegener said.

For example, 89 percent of the BHS 11th graders — up from 85 percent a year ago — met reading standards, compared with 85 percent statewide, according to the report card.

And 73 percent — down from 77 percent in 2010-11 — met math standards, compared with 67 percent statewide, the report card stated.

“They’ve changed the test, changed the scoring and changed the way they calculate what the scoring means,” Wegener said. “It makes it very difficult for people to figure out what’s going on.”

Peacock says the change in his school’s ranking is the result of the state changing the way the results are weighted. 

In the past, districts received a “bonus” for the number of students exceeding the state standards. That “bonus” was eliminated in this year’s formula that is used to calculate the rankings.

The formula produces a “performance index.” Last year, Baker High School’s performance index was 90.8. This year’s figure was 90.6. In order to receive the outstanding ranking again this year, the school would have had to show an increase of 3.3 points or higher in the performance index.

That would have been possible had the bonus factor not been eliminated from the formula, Wegener said.

“It’s disappointing when you know you’ve done really well, the staff has done a great job and the kids have performed really well,” he said.

Baker Middle School faced a similar situation in dropping from “outstanding” to “satisfactory” this year. The school’s “achievement index rating” was 73.8. The state required a 75.0 or higher rating for a school to be named outstanding.

Although the two schools were rated as satisfactory overall, both received the outstanding designation in other areas.

Baker High School’s four-year graduation rate of 72.2  and five-year graduation rate of 77.1, and its 100 percent participation rate in the number of students tested, received the outstanding designation.

Baker Middle School’s attendance rate of 92.4 in 2010-11 and 92.2 in 2011-12 and its 100 percent participation rate in student testing also earned it recognition as outstanding.

South Baker Intermediate School retained the “satisfactory” rating it received a year ago again on this year’s report card.

Brooklyn Intermediate School and Haines Elementary were rated “outstanding” again this year. They joined the 364 schools statewide that received the top rating.

Keating and EAGLE CAP innovative high school were not rated — Keating because of its size and EAGLE CAP because it is only in its second year of operation.

The Baker Web Academy was one of 113 throughout the state rated as “in need of improvement.”

Under the 2011-12 system, 74 percent of the Web Academy students in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 met reading standards, and 46 percent met math standards. The school received a “satisfactory” rating on achievement, but the four-year graduation rate of 13.1 and the five-year rate of 20.0 dropped it into the “needs improvement” category.

“There is an available long list of excuses,” Wegener said, “but they have had a change in leadership — they know what the problems are and they’re addressing their challenges.”

The Web Academy served 288 students from throughout the state in 2011-12, according to the report card information.

Ben Merrill of Baker City is in his first year as principal of the school, which has classrooms at the North Baker Campus. Daniel Huld of Portland is the director of the charter school program, which also includes Baker Early College.

Next year, the school report cards will be changed again, when the state moves to a new system that rates schools by levels.

Under the new system, which was partly implemented this year, Baker has three Level 5 schools: Brooklyn, Keating and Haines.

Level 5 schools represent the top 10 percent in the state, Wegener said. 

Brooklyn and Haines were named model schools because of their outstanding performance. (Again, because of its small size, Keating was not included in that designation). 

Brooklyn and Haines staff members will work to help other districts throughout the state make improvements using strategies that have worked for them.

Baker High School, Baker Middle School and Baker Early College were rated Level 4 schools, South Baker and EAGLE CAP were rated Level 3 and the Web Academy received a Level 2 designation. 

Rob Saxton, the state’s deputy superintendent, said in a press release announcing the report card information, that the new design is part of a federal waiver excluding Oregon from requirements of federal school reform law known as “No Child Left Behind.”

The new design will “provide better information to parents and communities on how our students, schools and districts are doing,” Saxton said.

To review the complete report card information for each school and district throughout the state, go to