UNION COUNTY — Leaders in some Oregon school districts, including Astoria, are rejecting standardized assessment testing, which normally happens each spring, because of instructional time lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assessment testing still is alive this spring in Union County, however, where all six of its public school districts are conducting it through May. Educators in the districts said they believe the tests provide valuable insight.
“They tell us when we have gaps in our instruction. They drive our instruction,” said Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit.
Elgin School District Superintendent Dianne Greif also said assessment test scores are meaningful.
“They help us develop future instructional strategies,” Greif said.
Union County educational leaders agree lost class time is a concern, especially this year after students missed so much instructional time over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After all of the (in-person) school students have missed we value every minute of (traditional) instruction,” said North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon.
La Grande High School is conducting all assessment tests during advisory periods to address the situation, said Principal Brett Baxter. Advisory periods are akin to study labs where students do homework and receive academic help.
“We are not pulling them from an academic class (to take assessment tests),” Baxter said.
The assessment tests this year in Union County and throughout Oregon are fewer in number and shorter than in the past. The U.S. Department of Education allowed the Oregon Department of Education to scale back the testing.
The state education department first sought permission to waive its requirement for assessment testing this spring. The federal agency rejected that, and ODE amended its request, asking for a testing rollback. The federal education department approved that.
Dixon noted all parents again have the option to have their sons and daughters exempted from taking assessment tests. The superintendent said many parents will be pulling their children out of testing this spring so they will not miss class time.
“I see a lot of kids opting out,” he said.
The number of 11th graders who end up not taking tests may be especially high because there is no longer an incentive for them to take the assessment tests, which are for English and math. Previously the stakes for the 11th grade assessment tests for the two subjects were enormous because students not passing both were suddenly at risk of not graduating.
State rules stipulate students cannot graduate unless they passed the grade 11 math and English tests or later provide work samples proving comprehension of the subjects, considered “essential skills.” La Grande School District Director of Education Scott Carpenter said the state has waived its essential skills graduation requirement for the classes of 2021 and 2022. This means this year’s sophomores may have to later pass essential skills tests to graduate but not current juniors and seniors.
Assessment test results have been reported in a manner that makes it easy to compare them with other districts across the state. Dixon said he does not think state assessment test results this year will have much comparative value because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The test results will be skewed,” Dixon said.
He explained this likely will be because in-person instructional time students have been receiving in 2020-21 varies greatly across the state. Dixon said some districts have been providing in-person instruction for much of the school year while others just started.