The Oregon Department of Education’s “At-A-Glance” district and school profiles, released last week, were discussed by the Philomath School Board at its Thursday meeting. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In comparison to statewide averages and numbers from neighboring schools, the Philomath School District appears to be above average based on the data reported last week through the Oregon Department of Education’s “At-A-Glance” district and school profiles.

The report cards include information on how schools are performing in various categories, including academics, attendance and graduation rates. Perspectives aired at Thursday’s Philomath School Board meeting hit both ends of the spectrum from a high school science teacher’s enthusiasm over the results to a local parent’s sharp criticism of what she sees with the district’s recent academic trends.

Perhaps the most telling perspective of the evening came from Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday, who in a nutshell said it’s a challenge to know how much stock to even put into the information — especially the state testing results.

 “A lot of things with the test data just doesn’t prove itself out,” Halliday said. “There are places where there are too many holes to be able to make it valid.”

ODE’s most recent release was the first full report since 2018-19. The 2019-20 and 2020-21 reports were modified because of the pandemic. But comparisons to 2018-19 could even be a stretch in some minds considering the pandemic’s aftermath.

For example, the 2018-19 report showed 58.9% of Philomath School District students meeting the state’s grade-level expectations in English. In the most-recent report, that number was down to 49.6%. However, as Halliday pointed out, no data is available for individual student progress for children in grades 3-8.

Halliday said an inconsistency that comes into view while trying to compare those two separated academic years comes down to things like attendance.

“The thing that we need to remember with this is that the state has different algorithms for who they include and who they don’t,” Halliday said. “So, it’s not the best to be able to take a look at but it does give us a little bit of information to go on.”

Added Halliday, “That’s why we’re looking at other pieces of information to say, ‘what are we doing that has merit and value of what’s happening and changing for us right now?’”

Halliday indicated that she hopes to come back in November “to talk about some of the things that we are doing in an ongoing way that will allow us to not solely rely on the state test information to make assumptions or assurances about how we are doing, that we have some additional data that can help us guarantee more success than if we just play the wait-and-see game.”

School Board Chair Rick Wells asked for a work session to dive further into the numbers “to get a little bit of a better understanding of exactly what they’re telling us.”

The board later decided to meet for that purpose at 6 p.m. Nov. 6.

Getting into the percentages

A sampling of what the numbers revealed through the ODE “At-A-Glance” profiles:

• Philomath freshmen on track to graduate in four years came in at 91% in 2021-22. That percentage in 2018-19 stood at 85%. The on-track-to-graduate percentage is based on freshmen earning at least a fourth of their required credits as they head into their sophomore year. The data serves as one way to help educators identify students that may need additional support. Statewide, the rate was 83% and in neighboring districts, Corvallis was at 88%, Albany at 74% and Monroe at 95%-plus.

• As far as Class of 2021 students graduating on time, Philomath and Corvallis shared the county’s highest percentage at 90%, compared to 80% in Albany and 84% in Monroe. The statewide percentage came in at 81% and Philomath had better numbers than the state’s five largest districts.

• Regular attendance figures for K-2 students stood at 65% statewide and Philomath exceeded that number at 76%. Others in the area included 72% at Corvallis, 61% at Albany and 64% at Monroe. The K-2 numbers are considered to be a key indicator of future success.

Science teacher Len Cerny, who is the representative for the Philomath Education Association, saw the results as extremely positive for Philomath.

“What I’m seeing is our school is doing an outstanding job … our teachers, our classified people, our administrators — it’s a spectacular result compared to our area schools and compared to our state average,” Cerny told the board during his PEA report. “I’m seeing outstanding work being done by our staff who are doing a great job educating our students.”

OREGON AT-A-GLANCE SCHOOL PROFILES
Following are links to the district
profiles and individual school profiles:
Philomath School District
Philomath High School
Philomath Middle School
Philomath Elementary School
Clemens Primary School
Philomath Academy
Kings Valley Charter School

Philomath outperformed the state averages and was among the top districts in the region on standardized test scores:

• English: 2021-22 — Philomath, 49.6%; Statewide, 43.5%; Corvallis, 50.9%; Albany, 41.1%; Monroe, 43.1%. 2018-19 — Philomath, 58.9%; Statewide, 53.4%; Corvallis, 61.5%; Albany, 51.3%; Monroe, 44.0%.

• Math: 2021-22 — Philomath, 33.2%; Statewide, 30.4%; Corvallis, 39.0%; Albany, 27.1%; Monroe, 27.2%. 2018-19 — Philomath, 41.8%; Statewide, 39.4%; Corvallis, 49.1%; Albany, 36.7%; Monroe, 35.0%.

• Science: 2021-22 — Philomath, 44.0%; Statewide, 29.5%; Corvallis, 37.2%; Albany, 26.4%; Monroe, 25.4%. 2018-19 — Philomath, 48.8%; Statewide, 36.9%; Corvallis, 45.8%; Albany, 39.4%; Monroe, 41.6%.

Philomath’s Grade 11 test scores were better than neighboring schools in all three areas:

• English — Philomath, 60.0%; Statewide, 47.0%; Corvallis, 49.0%; Albany, 42.0%; Monroe, 38.0%.

• Math — Philomath, 28.0%; Statewide, 20.4%; Corvallis, 20.0%; Albany, 19.0%; Monroe, 12.0%.

• Science — Philomath, 57.0%; Statewide, 31.7%; Corvallis, 18.7%; Albany, 24.5%; Monroe, 32.1%.

Overall, the information out of standardized test scores showed a sharp drop in the areas of reading, writing and math. The tests were optional and participation was down compared to pre-COVID levels, but still stood at 85% statewide. During the pandemic, learning took place only online for most students.

Halliday provided a few examples of how the data couldn’t fully compare to 2018-19.

“The other thing that happens in terms of performance is the fewer students we have tested, the more unstable the testing percentages become,” she said.

Statewide, the results revealed a 10% decline in English and a 9% drop in math from pre-pandemic levels — statistics that paralleled what was seen nationally. 

Chronic absenteeism, defined as students missing 10% or more school days, was 20% statewide in 2018-19 and 35% in 2020-21. Officials point to COVID surges during the last school year as a factor behind the higher percentage.

The ODE reports also showed that many districts recovered in the area of staffing — COVID funds and other funding sources helped those efforts. Many teaching positions have been filled and more counselors are in place on many campuses.

Local mom speaks out

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Chelle Krantz, who has a child in Philomath Elementary and heads up the local chapter of the Oregon Moms Union, had strong comments about what she saw in the results.

Krantz said the standardized test results were “a little less than middle of the road” and made a reference to Oregon’s academic performance in general compared to the rest of the country. She suggested that Philomath needs a return to curriculum that helps students academically by teaching them the core subjects.

“Our kids deserve an actual education — an education that will help them be successful, contributing members of society,” she added. “We as parents are putting all of you on notice. We are demanding a better education for our kids, all the kids in Philomath and all of the kids in the state of Oregon. Lowering the standard is not the solution. Getting back to the basics is a good place to start.”

Krantz asked the board to add the issues that she brought up to its next meeting agenda. 

In other news out of the Oct. 20 meeting:

• In recognition of National Principals Month, Halliday voiced her appreciation for the jobs that the school district’s principals and assistant principals are doing at the five campuses in Philomath along with Blodgett and Kings Valley Charter School.

• During her superintendent’s report, Halliday highlighted professional learning opportunities, including an activity on Oct. 7 with the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Halliday also mentioned staffing changes, parent-teacher conferences and details of a school traffic safety study discussion that will take place on Oct. 24 with the city.

• Jennifer Griffith, finance director, reported that the district is seeing an increase in enrollment compared to last year. Enrollment of full-time students as of last week stood at 1,605 — 57 students more than in October 2021.

• Board member Christopher McMorran said applications for a student representative to be added to the board will be reviewed on Nov. 7.

• Halliday went through compliance reports with the state, which included two areas where the district is out of compliance — physical education in the elementary and middle grades, and instructional materials adoption. Halliday provided information on how those situations came up and corrective action plans that will be implemented. The board unanimously approved the plan.

• The board unanimously approved Craig McDaniel’s application to serve on the district’s Budget Committee. The committee still has another seat to fill and the board approved a motion to reopen the application process until Nov. 30.

• The board approved a consent agenda that included a list of bills, minutes, leave of absence, out-of-state travel and several staffing adjustments. Among the new hires included was Eugenia Moone as pool director. Iliana Kaiser was promoted to head coach of the swim team after serving last season as an assistant. Hannah Lee will assist Kaiser with the program.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.