Brown orders release of school performance ratings

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown ordered the public release of annual school performance ratings Wednesday after the state's biggest newspaper reported that a Brown appointee had delayed the release of the statistical rankings until after the high-stakes gubernatorial election Nov. 6.

Brown is in a tight race with Republican challenger Rep. Knute Buehler, who has made statewide education funding and reform among his top campaign issues.

Oregon ranks third-worst in statewide four-year graduation rates and the issue is a sensitive one for voters, who already have their ballots in front of them under the state's vote-by-mail system. Brown is one of two Democratic female governors nationwide and a narrow race in this normally blue state has attracted attention well beyond Oregon's borders.

Brown did not appear at a hastily called news conference in downtown Portland, but instead sent Department of Education Director Colt Gill to address the reporting by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

"We should all remember that at the end of the day, this data is not about an election or politics. It's about improving our schools," Brown said in a statement. "My top priority as Governor is to give Oregon's students the tools they need to succeed."

Buehler seized on the newspaper report and Gill's subsequent news conference and said Brown was putting her re-election bid over the needs of the state's children, parents and teachers.

"It shouldn't take the threat of the Governor losing her election for her to do the right thing," Buehler's official campaign Twitter account posted Wednesday. "Oregonians and especially our students and parents, deserve better than this. Help is on the way in 13 days."

School districts have had the annual ranking data since Oct. 4 and had been told they could prepare public statements about their results for release Oct. 25.

But in recent days, the newspaper reported, they were told by state education officials that the data would go public after the election.

Gill, the ODE director, said Wednesday that the data was ready but that a changeover in federal testing mandates meant it needed to be presented in a new way.

He added that although the numbers were ready for release, education officials hadn't finished creating resources and supports that struggling districts could use to interpret and improve on their performance.

The new federal reporting standards also don't allow for Oregon's unique opt-out law, which allows students to choose not to take standardized tests. That means that schools where many students opted out will appear to be struggling when they may not be, he said, and the state needed to figure out how to address that discrepancy.

He decided to delay the release of the reports on his own and informed Brown's office, but did not speak with Brown herself about it.

"I informed the governor's office that I was delaying this," he said, adding that it was "absolutely not" politically motivated.

"The response I got was, 'We understand. Move forward."

Profiles of individual school and district results, released Wednesday, can be found at https://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx .

But the Oregon Department of Education released them in a manner that only allows the public to see one school's data at a time.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com


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