Oregon board outlines details in school achievement compacts

Oregon board outlines details in school achievement compacts
FILE - Gov. John Kitzhaber makes remarks during a news conference Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, in Salem, Ore. Governor Kitzhaber, education leaders and parents held the press conference to outline their push for the Legislature to act on public education bills. (AP File Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Now that the Legislature has approved a plan to require school districts, community colleges and universities to sign achievement compacts with the state, Oregon's new education oversight board began to fill in the details on Tuesday.

The Education Investment Board voted to require that K-12 school districts be measured on their graduation rates, student test scores and success with disadvantaged students. Approval of achievement compacts for higher education is expected later in March.

The achievement compacts are a step toward Gov. John Kitzhaber's long-term education proposal, which he hopes would improve student achievement by breaking down bureaucratic barriers and rewarding the most successful programs with more money. Proponents hope they'll entice the Obama administration to grant Oregon's request to waive requirements of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

"We've had a lot of input. These things are never going to be perfect, but we did have what I would consider a strong consensus that this might be good to move forward with," said Nancy Golden, superintendent of Springfield schools and a member of the investment board.

The compacts will be nonbinding, at least in the beginning.

State legislators have established a goal of having 100 percent of students graduate from high school, with at least 80 percent having some form of post-high school education. Proponents see the achievement compacts as a mechanism to inch toward that goal.

The Legislature voted this month to endorse the concept of achievement compacts and left it up to the education board to come up with details, like the specific data that will be measured. Officials said those are critical decisions that will determine the goals school districts will work toward.

Critics have said the board must ensure the compacts don't focus solely on student test scores and that they force schools to eliminate the achievement gaps between white and minority students, and between rich and poor areas. Some skeptics wonder whether the compacts will make a difference if schools aren't required to meet the targets.

Under the framework adopted Tuesday, schools will have to set goals for improving their four- and five-year graduation rates, third-grade test scores in reading and math, sixth-grade attendance rates and various measures of ninth-grade progress. l

They'll also have to set goals for the percentage of students earning at least nine college credits during high school and set progressive targets for improving the performance of disadvantaged students.

With the framework approved, education officials will fill in existing data for each of the 197 school districts and 19 education service districts. Local school boards will be responsible for reviewing the data and setting their own goals as they approve their budgets before the end of June.

The compacts only stipulate outcomes that districts are supposed to attain but not steps to get there. Proponents hope the approach will encourage schools to find innovative approaches that, if successful, can be replicated elsewhere.

"For too long, we've told districts what they had to do and how they had to accomplish it," said Tim Nesbitt, who is overseeing the creation of the Education Investment Board.

The Oregon Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, has supported the achievement compacts but warned that schools need to get enough money to meet the targets.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.