- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Twenty-one Oregon districts ranging from small to the state’s largest failed to meet federal testing targets for Smarter Balanced assessments, according to state data.

The launch of new Common Core aligned assessments last school year sparked opt-out movements across the country. States are required to test at least 95 percent of students overall and in every group, such as low-income students and English Language Learners - to fit the No Child Let Behind law and receive federal education dollars.

In Oregon, which has nearly 200 school districts, the Smarter Balanced tests replaced the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills starting during the 2014-2015 school year, in grades three to eight and 11 in English language arts and math.

Rates fell below 95 percent in at least one subject area for 21 Oregon districts, according to the Oregon Department of Education. In 2013-2014, only two districts missed the mark in a subject area and none fell below subject targets the year prior.

Oregon’s schools chief Salam Noor told superintendents and principals in an email that $344 million in funding could be at risk. This year about 95 percent of Oregon students took the tests but rates for African American students and students with special needs dropped to 93 percent.

The U.S. Department of Education said in a statement that the department has not yet had to withhold funding due to participation requirements because states either fit the law or addressed low rates at specific schools or districts.

The department has not made any decisions in relation to Oregon’s latest participation rates, said Press Secretary Dorie Turner Nolt.

“We have made no decisions, and as we have said many times, continue to look to states to ensure districts and schools are meeting the law,” she said.

Oregon districts that missed participation targets in at least one subject range from small, rural areas to Portland. For example, in Gaston, near Forest Grove, 340 students were scheduled to take exams and about 92 percent did. And out of the approximately 25,100 students set to test in Portland Public Schools, roughly 87 percent took assessments.

More than a quarter of students at some schools refused to test, according to Portland Public Schools figures. Portland community members had at times visibly advocated against the test - the district’s union passed a resolution this winter and a local opt out committee formed last year.

“I think we see this kind of concern anytime there is a new test that is being rolled out,” said Joe Suggs, the district’s assessment lead. “It’s possible that the opt-out numbers will decline. Obviously we won’t that know until we are into testing again.”

The state plans to work with districts to communicate why test data is valuable, said spokeswoman Crystal Greene. Test scores allow districts and the state to accurately evaluate which schools and student groups are doing well and who needs more help.

Opt-out advocates in the Portland area have shared concerns with the amount of time each test requires and the initial predication that many students would fail, among other red flags.

In some cases, students took the lead. A student union founded at Lake Oswego High led to 234 exemptions, which made up 88 percent of the total number of district opt-outs, said spokeswoman Nancy Duin. Overall 92 percent of Lake Oswego School District students took tests.

At the Eugene School District, the state’s seventh-largest, 89 percent of those eligible for tests took them. About 500 students turned in formal requests to opt out of the test though the number of students who actually skipped could be higher, said district spokeswoman Kerry Delf. Avoiding the test could be especially problematic for high school students who are yet meet graduation requirements, she said.

“As we continue forward, we don’t know what the new year will bring,” Delf said. “We continue to try to have thorough and consistent participation in all required areas, such as testing.”

Additional test participation data and scores for Oregon schools, districts, and other student categories will be released Sept. 17 along with final test score results. Preliminary figures showed students performed better than expected.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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