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Editorial: Test results only reveal part of the story

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Nevaeh Adeyele-Bray works on a word problem during a class at Linus Pauling Middle School. The second year of results from the Smarter Balanced test was released this week. Test results can be useful, but they're only one window into the performance of our public schools. 

The second batch of annual results from the Smarter Balanced state test scores was released this week, and while there's still controversy over the test and the Common Core standards that it measures, the hubbub seems to have died down considerably.

Maybe that's because we increasingly understand that these test scores are just one way to gauge the success of our students and the effectiveness of our schools. Just like the statewide tests these replaced, the Smarter Balanced tests offer just one window into our schools. The insights that these test results offer can be useful, but don't come close to telling the entire story.

Statewide, the test scores were mostly unchanged, although the numbers edged slightly upward. Overall, 55 percent of Oregon students fully mastered Common Core standards in English and 42 percent met them in math.

In Linn County, the results were mixed, as was the case the year before, the first year of the Smarter Balanced testing. Overall, 57 percent of Albany students met or exceeded the English standard, a bit ahead of the state average. And 56.3 percent of Central Linn students met or exceeded the English standard, ahead of the state average. Lebanon and Sweet Home were below the state average.

The math results were similar: Albany and Central Linn students exceeded the state average, while Lebanon and Sweet Home fell below.

After two years, it shouldn't come as much of a shock that so many students statewide did not meet or exceed the standards: The Smarter Balanced test is considerably harder than the test it replaced, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. 

That's by design: The tests are intended to help measure whether students are on track to be college-ready when they graduate. They rely on written answers with proof of reasoning instead of fill-ins on multiple-choice bubbles.

In other words, the Smarter Balanced tests don't just ask students to regurgitate information they've picked up in the classroom: They have to apply their math or English skills to new problems, just like they'll have to do in college — or, for that matter, in real life.

Again, though, these test results aren't the only piece of information we have to assess the performance of our schools. The state's report cards for each public school are due later in this school year. We'll have new statistics looking at high school graduation rates to pore over. We even will be able to look at attendance rates in our schools, the theory being that you can't teach students who aren't there.

In addition, these test results can provide important information for teachers as they decide how best to work with individual classrooms and students. 

In our constant fussing and fighting over the state of our public schools, there's something we sometimes forget, and it's worth remembering as we start a new school year: The education of our students isn't just something that professional educators do. Parents and guardians have a huge role to play in this as well. It's no coincidence that the best schools are the ones with the most parental involvement. The most successful students tend to be the ones who know that someone outside the school is keeping tabs on their education as well.

It's easy, especially these days, to focus on this statistical report or that statistical report about our schools, and those reports do have merit. But education doesn't occur in a vacuum, and it's not something that takes place just inside the walls of the classroom. (mm)

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