It was my honor to represent the residents of Linn and Benton counties in the Oregon House and Senate from 1977-2003. While I have long been retired from public office, I have not retired from caring about my community.
I recently attended the October meeting of the board of directors of Greater Albany Public Schools to share my concerns with some very disturbing test numbers and to recommend two proposals which I believe would greatly improve the education our youth are receiving.
I write this letter to briefly share my proposals and to appeal to other concerned citizens to join me in expressing support for the proposals at the Nov. 20 GAPS board meeting.
My first proposal to the board was that they should amend their Five Pillars for Becoming a “Great Public School” to reinstate the goal that all students will graduate with high academic achievement and character development. This statement was included in GAPS 1999-2004 District Vision, Mission and Goals brochure, but has since been eliminated. It should go without saying that in this time of tough global competition, it is essential that our schools educate our students to meet high standards and to motivate and inspire them to advance and lead in arts, science, and technology.
My second proposal was to have the board adopt a goal of having 90% of our students passing the state standardized reading and math tests by 2023, and to develop and publicize a strategic plan and timeline to meet that goal.
That proposal is especially timely and important given the recent Smarter Balanced (SBAC) test scores revealing that scores sliding from previous year and only 50 percent of our high school 11th graders passed the reading test, and only 40 percent passed the math test! Furthermore, two of our grade schools have only 14 percent and 15 percent passing math tests in the third grade and 17 percent and 23 percent passing in English. Does anyone disagree that it is completely unacceptable to have more than eight out of 10 students failing these tests?
Unfortunately, a recent Albany Democrat Herald news article reported that the GAPS superintendent considers state assessment scores not a main priority and has no specific plan that singles out SBAC scores for improvement. SBAC is standardized nationally, used by Oregon Department of Education and 21 other states. Our test scores have been consistently low during the past 15 years. Do we need to wait and see if it is low and sliding again next year under a new test or shall we make plans for improvements now?
GAPS also needs to scrutinize the existing data for the third graders in two of our grade schools as a start to see why the passing percentage in English and math are so distressingly low and what can be done to improve this dire situation.
It is also worth noting that test scores have decreased while school funding has increased by an average of 10.15 percent every year for the past 15 years. Cost per student has more than doubled, with $7,186 cost per student in 2002 now $14,528 in 2017. Our November property tax bills ask for a 59 percent increase in GAPS bond payment from last year. Are we, as taxpayers, receiving a return for our investment? Sadly, the answer to that question is no.
Superintendent Pat Bedore had a plan to improve test scores to 90 percent passing in both math and reading in six years in 2002. She had many good ideas although not fully implemented. I presented her plan to the board for their review and update. Many teachers informed me that the schools should stop social promotion so that students learn the basics required in each grade before advancing.
Please attend the GAPS board meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at the district office to express your views regarding my proposals. It will take hard work and determination to ensure that our schools continue to hold high goals of academic achievement, character development and high standards of accountability in spending and performance, but our youth and Oregon citizens deserve no less and will benefit greatly in the short and long run.