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Ore. Students Fall Short of Standards

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Few Oregon students are ready to meet the higher academic standards for high school that the state school board is expected to approve this month, new assessment results show.

Only 25 percent of 10th graders meet the math standards and 39 percent meet the reading standards, according to results released last month from assessments benchmarked to the new standards.

Beginning in 1998-99, sophomores will have to meet the standards to earn a "certificate of initial mastery" that shows what they know and can do. Tests in additional academic subjects will be phased in over time.

In 1991, Oregon became the first state to adopt such a certificate, as part of the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century.

Although the certificate is not required to earn a high school diploma, educators in the state had predicted that parents would protest when they found out how few students met the standard.

But so far, said Larry Austin, a spokesman for the state education department, reaction to the initial test scores has been muted. "No one has raised the issue," he said.

One reason may be that Norma Paulus, the state schools chief, played her cards right. This summer she alerted newspaper editors throughout Oregon that few students would meet the standards, after they were reviewed by a national panel of experts. Ms. Paulus cautioned editors that the state should not lower the bar.

Far more attention has focused on students' lackluster performance in mathematics. Math scores generally have not improved in six years of state testing.

Math performance remains static in grades 3 and 5, with little progress between grades 8 and 10.

Ms. Paulus and Judy Stiegler, the chairwoman of the state board of education, want local school boards to publicly report math scores, as well as information about the quality of their math teachers and classes, and devise plans for improvement.

"Looking at our reading and writing scores during the six years of state testing, Oregonians can take pride in steady growth," Ms. Paulus said. "But when you chart our math scores, you end up with a flat line. If we were in a hospital with this line, alarm bells would sound to call a resuscitation team."

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