Less than half of Oregon students demonstrate the skills and knowledge necessary for college, according to results from Smarter Balanced Assessments. Here’s how local educators and administrators are fighting against school disinvestment.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a series about the statewide problems in Oregon’s education system, and how it affects local schools in the Southern Willamette region. This week’s story follows Creswell School Board member Lacey Risdal as she advocates for change in the system.
For Board Director Lacey Risdal, attending the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) Conference each year gives her inspiration. This year, however, she was moved beyond inspiration into action.
“A theme emerged for me, from several different sessions that I chose, on the state of disinvestment in our school system state-wide,” Risdal said in an email. “I left the conference feeling a need to be involved at a higher advocacy level for our schools as we head into the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session.”
Risdal first brought her feelings up to the board during the Nov. 14 regular school board session, where she said she wanted to be more involved in education at a state level. This discussion was also influenced by the results from the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which was discussed during the Oct. 10 regular school board meeting.
Results from the assessments show in English language arts, Creswell came in at 55.7 percent. Not only a 1.9 percent increase from last year, the results also put Creswell above the state average of 54.9 percent and third in the district.
With math, Creswell was 2.9 percent above the state average – coming in at 43.4 percent of students at a level three or four. Creswell scored second highest in the district under Eugene, as well as improved from its 41.2 percent in 2016-17.
The last assessment category, science, bounced down to fifth in the district at 63.7 percent. That is a 3.5 percent increase from the state average of 60.2 percent. Compared to 2016-17, however, Creswell dropped in this category; last year the percent level was 68 percent.
Although Creswell’s results in each benchmark were all above the state average, Risdal said during the meeting that she was disheartened that the average percentages state-wide were lower than or around 50 percent of students placing on track to demonstrating skills and knowledge necessary for college.
Of all the districts in Lane County, Eugene’s scores are rated the highest except for in science, where they fall .2 percent behind Pleasant Hill. Creswell’s ratings match closest to the Crow-Applegate-Lorane district, as they compete for second or third place in the district with for math and English. For science, Creswell is sandwiched between Blachly and Bethel.
Oregon is one of 12 states, along with the Bureau of Indian Education, which uses Smarter Balanced Assessment. There isn’t data available on the national level to show Oregon’s place nationally because of the differences in each assessment tool.
“Our team of teachers and staff love on our kids daily, and work hard to teach them. The scores reflect that,” Risdal said in an email. “Our district’s scores are above the state averages consistently; (however,) in several of my sessions, I saw that Oregon schools are near the bottom of the list in many areas when compared to other states.”
Risdal elaborated, saying that one of those areas was the counselor-to-student ratio, which attributes mental health as a factor in academics. This thought process has been researched in studies, such as “Academic Achievement in High School: Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?” that found “academic success was strongly associated with several dimensions of emotional intelligence.”
Colt Gill, Oregon Department of Education director, showed Risdal during a seminar a report from 2004-05 to 2014-15, tracking the number of students-to-counselor. In 2014-15, there were 571 students per counselor.
The American School Counselor Association recommended schools have a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. In the Creswell School District, there are two counselors for 1,218 students.
Board Chair Tim Rogers said that while he cannot speak for the entire board on this issue, he does support Risdal’s call to be more involved at the state level, and looks forward to working on these issues during the next legislative session.
“I believe the Oregon Legislature needs to make steady and consistent progress towards full funding of our schools at the Quality Education Model level,” he said, “so that all districts in Oregon can offer the services necessary for the success =of all of our students, and I intend to communicate that position to the legislators who cover the Creswell School District.”
Those legislators include Senators Lee Beyer and Floyd Prozanski, as well as Representatives Cedric Hayden, Marty Wilde and Paul Holvey. Rogers said he has previously met with Beyer, Prozanski and Hayden – as well as the former Representative Phil Barnhart.
CSD Superintendent Todd Hamilton said that this “call to action” will help OSBA’s efforts to “activate their membership heading into the coming legislative session in 2019 – focusing primarily on revenue reform and cost containment.”
As of the Dec. 12 regular board meeting, the 2019-20 biennium state budget is already being formed, and although more details will be available later on this month, Hamilton is “cautiously optimistic” about the current service levels getting closer to the district manager’s projections.
Although Risdal said the board doesn’t have an action plan in place to be advocates, she said that because the Oregon Legislature will have a general focus on education that, “Now is the time, and if someone has the opportunity to fix it that we want Creswell’s voice in the crowd.”
While no plans are solidified on the school board attending a legislative session at the moment, Risdal said that she would be open to attending.
“I don’t have the delusion they will be hearing anything brand new,” she said, “but it will apply pressure. That I can do, and it will only help the kids.”
In the next part of the series, The Chronicle will meet with the Pleasant Hill School District superintendent and discuss test scores in their district.