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Test results show dip in math scores of younger Oregon students

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The scores earned by some of Oregon's youngest students on the state's standardized math tests dropped in the 2006-2007 school year.

Seventy percent of third graders, 72 percent of fourth graders, and 68 percent of fifth graders got passing grades on the state math test, down six points, three points and four points, respectively, the Oregon Department of Education said Monday.

The dip came in part because state officials adjusted the passing scores on the state tests this year, the first such change since the testing system was put into place in 1996.

The tweak, which made it more difficult for elementary students to score a passing grade, came after concerns that earlier incarnations of the elementary school standardized tests were too simple, lulling parents, students and teachers into a false sense of security.

But even when the scores from the 2005-2006 school year are calibrated on the new scale, last year's elementary school students fell short of their predecessors.

State education officials have said the dip in student performance could also be due, at least in part, to the abrupt, midyear switch from online tests to old-fashioned pencil and paper testing, after a dispute between the state and its online testing provider. Online testing is back in place for the current school year.

Usually, elementary school students are the bright spot when state testing results are released, since scores tend to dip as students age. But this year, it was older students who posted modest improvements, with seventh, eighth and tenth graders all either holding steady or making small gains on math and reading tests.

Older students likely benefited from the tweaking of passing scores as well: At the same time that educators made it more difficult to pass the elementary school tests, they made it slightly easier to pass the middle and high school versions.

That decision came after studies showing that middle school Oregon students stacked up well when compared to their peers nationally, better than their in-state testing results suggested.

High school students remain a trouble spot for the state — just 66 percent of 10th graders scored a passing grade on the state reading test, and only 55 percent passed the state math test and writing tests, scores that are virtually indistinguishable from previous years.

Things are about to get tougher for the state's high school seniors, too: The state Board of Education voted this year to increase the number of credits students will need to graduate from high school. By 2014, an Oregon high school diploma will require four years of English, three years of math at the Algebra I and higher level, and three years of science.

The state standardized tests are the academic basis for the rankings issued by the state government under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that says every child should be reading or doing math at grade level by 2014.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, 923 Oregon schools met the federal government's standards this year, or about 74 percent, compared with 70 percent of schools last year. An additional 21 percent did not meet the federal standards this year. Designations for the remaining 5 percent are incomplete.

The state testing scores are the second in a series of data releases about Oregon schools. Next month, the state Department of Education will issue its annual "report cards" for schools, rating them on testing performance, attendance, dropout rates and improvement over time.


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