Report: One in 3 Oregon schools 'left behind'

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Though two in three Oregon schools met No Child Left Behind standards in 2008, preliminary test results from 34 percent of Oregon schools were below federal targets for the program. That's still an improvement over 2007.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - About two in every three Oregon schools met federal academic standards in 2008, a slight improvement over 2007, according to preliminary data released by the state Tuesday.

Though the final figures are still being worked out, early numbers suggest more than 66 percent of Oregon schools achieved the goals established by No Child Left Behind. That's a 5 percent increase over the previous year. SEE THE FULL LIST

For a school to meet the target, at least 59 percent of its students must be at grade level in math, and 60 percent in reading. Schools must also meet certain graduation or attendance levels.

Other figures in the preliminary data were less promising. Oregon's "school improvement" list doubled. That means more than 70 schools that received federal dollars for poorer students were unable to meet federal targets for two years in a row.

Schools on the improvement list face a variety of consequences, which become more severe the longer the school remains on the list. During the first year, schools must notify parents of their designation and the district must pay the transportation costs for students who wish to attend a different school. In the second year, the school must provide students additional academic help, such as tutoring. In subsequent years, the school can be forced to drastically restructure with a completely new staff or revised curriculum.

According to the data released Tuesday, five schools were able to pull themselves off the "school improvement" list last year, and 10 others met all standards and are one year away from getting off the list.

Valor Middle School in Woodburn is one of those 10.

"You can imagine it's pretty big for us," Principal Victor Vergara said.

Valor changed a number of things to help raise students' scores. It started offering before- and after-school programs. A weekly parent night was established. Teachers and administrators made certain to recognize students for their accomplishments.

"We push our students, but in the sense, 'Try. Try. You can do it. Try your best,"' Vergara said. "We're the motivational piece."

Valor faces a unique hurdle in that more than half of its students are English-language learners. Under the law, different student subsets - including white, black, Hispanic, Asian, special education and those learning to speak English - must pass with the right percentage or the entire school risks failing.

"We get students who come straight from Mexico with no English skills, and we're asking them to be at grade level," Vergara said. "I don't agree with it."

The standards are only going to get tougher. Next year, 70 percent of students must be at grade level in both subjects in order for a school to make the grade. By 2014, the bar will be 100 percent.

Though groups that traditionally have problems reaching these standards are showing some progress, they're still lagging behind the overall student population, said Tony Alpert with the Oregon Department of Education.

Generally, however, the department was pleased with the gains, said spokesman Jake Weigler.

"We have to continue looking at what we can do to reach improvement," he said. But "overall, the number of schools making progress is increasing."

Final figures will be released in a month.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)