The Oregon Department of Education’s recently released profiles on the Seaside School District and its individual schools shows positive signs in the areas of attendance and graduation rates, while students across the district and state continue struggling with achievement in mathematics.
The purpose of the Oregon At-A-Glance profiles, released annually in mid-October, is “to give a snapshot of some important markers for school districts,” Seaside Superintendent Sheila Roley said, adding the data encompassed in the reports “is certainly not representative of everything going on in the academic programs.”
“We think they’re important, but we also keep them in perspective as just one part of the picture,” she said. “Ultimately, our job is for students to leave high school and to have the skills to be positive members of their community in a multitude of ways.”
Key indicators highlighted in the profiles include the number of regular attenders, or students who attended more than 90% of their enrolled school days; academic performance in English language arts and mathematics; ninth-graders on track to graduate; the on-time graduation rate of 12-graders; and class sizes.
Johnna Timmes, executive director of instructional services at the Northwest Regional ESD, said looking at academic indicators and disaggregating the data can help educators have “a clearer picture on who is achieving and where we may need to put more resources in place to close academic disparities.” However, she added, one marker that is hard to measure but has a direct effect on student success is school climate data.
“Do students feel good about their school? Do they have trusting relationships with at least one adult in their school building? Are their classes and curriculum engaging and aligned with the world that they live in?” Timmes said. “When students answer these questions in positive, affirmative ways, you are likely to see a healthy learning environment.”
Getting students to school
According to the At-A-Glance profiles, the percentage of regular attenders at both Gearhart and The Heights elementary schools increased to 83% for the 2018-19 school year, which is above the state average of 80%. At Seaside High School, the rate of regular attenders increased by 6% to 72% in 2018-19. Broadway Middle School and Cannon Beach Academy both experienced slight decreases in regular attendance.
The high school has been hovering between 62% and 65% for attendance for the last four years, so the increase is a welcome change influenced by concerted efforts made by the district.
“We’ve taken some really focused steps on trying to communicate with families in the community about the importance of attendance,” Roley said.
According to Jason Boyd, assistant principal at Seaside High School, the entire district is launching an Every Day Matters campaign over the next few weeks that aligns with the ODE’s statewide initiative.
“We are hopeful that parents and students are going to minimize their absences for the rest of the year to stay under the nine days of total absences,” he said.
In addition to high school seniors, kindergarteners experience the highest rates of absenteeism. The district is working to stress the importance of kindergarten education is preparing children for entering first grade.
“Kindergarten is a really critical step for getting kids off on the right foot academically,” Roley said.
The attendance improvements in Seaside mirror statewide outcomes. According to an Oct. 17 news release from the ODE, the rate of chronic absenteeism did not increase in 2018-19 for the first time since the department started reporting numbers. About 20.4% of students were considered chronically absent — meaning they missed 10% or more of schools days — in the 2018-19 school year, which is slightly down from 20.5% in 2017-18 and stops a run of four consecutive years with increases in chronic absenteeism of about a percentage point per year.
According to Timmes, research shows chronic absenteeism is “a complex problem.” Transportation issues, access to health care, having to hold a job while going to school, and disengagement from school and curriculum all contribute to high rates of student absence, she said.
“It can be difficult to get to the root causes without looking at data closely, and also working to understand the lived experiences of students and their families,” she said.
The NWRESD and ODE have partnered to work with and support districts facing higher rates of chronic absenteeism. They meet with school district administrative teams to look at the data, hear from students and families, and build plans on how to address the issue from a local context, Timmes said.
Other data from the At-A-Glance profiles showed the on-track graduation rate among ninth-graders was about 85%, up 2% from the previous year, in Seaside. The overall on-time graduation rate — or students earning a diploma within four years — increased to 73% from 67% in 2017-18.
Challenges with math
One area where the district struggles is in mathematics performance. At Broadway Middle School, individual student progress in English language arts and mathematics was rated as “low.” The number of students meeting state grade-level expectations for mathematics decreased from 28% in 2017-18 to 25% in 2018-19.
Gearhart Elementary School’s rate dropped by 4% to 38%. At The Heights, the number of students meting state grade-level expectations increased slightly to 32%. Data for Cannon Beach Academy was not reported in the profile because of confidentiality based on the school’s small class sizes.
The challenges in math performance are not unique to Seaside. As Roley pointed out, the issue is statewide and systemic throughout K-12 education. Across the state, the percentage of students meeting statewide expectations is well below 50%, although the data is collected from a single assessment administered at the end of the school year.
“In our own district, we became very aware that our content for students K-12 was not aligned in the way that was necessarily supporting the most kids,” Roley said.
This year, administration sparked a districtwide initiative the realign its mathematics curriculum, spending in-service time reviewing standards both in grade-level groups and vertically, so students are exposed to a deliberate sequence throughout their entire education. Educators in the district are also exploring best practices for math instructions and methods to connect it to real-world, practical application.
“It’s not going to be an overnight fix,” Roley said. “I’m really optimistic that three to four years from now, we’ll see a fairly dramatic change in math performance, and we’ll see it get a little bit better every year.”