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February 5th, 2014 RACHEL GRAHAM CODY | Schools
 

Grade: Incomplete

Portland Public Schools is months behind in releasing its progress report on helping minority students.

news3_4014IMAGE: WW Staff
Portland Public Schools managed to get reports cards out this week to its 47,000 students, who may wonder (along with hovering parents) how well they’re performing.

Don’t expect the same for PPS itself.

For years, PPS has published its own report card, called Milestones Framework, as proof that the district’s policies to improve outcomes for students—especially those of color—are working.

But the current Milestones report is nowhere in sight. The report was due in October, but district officials have offered no public explanation where it is or when it might be issued.

“How can the district be held accountable for progress on the Milestones, as well as the compact, without regular reporting on their progress?” asks Eliza Erhardt-Eisen of the group 80%ers for Educational Excellence.

The Milestones report is a key metric for the PPS board to measure the success of the district and Superintendent Carole Smith. But no one on the board has asked publicly where the report is.

Board co-chairs Greg Belisle and Pam Knowles in October listed championing and tracking student achievement via Milestones as a top priority. Belisle didn’t respond to WW’s calls; Knowles said she didn’t have time to comment.

District officials say the Milestones report will be out later this year. PPS spokesman Robb Cowie says Milestones is reflected in the district’s “achievement compact” with the state and that some have been discussed with the School Board this year. Cowie says labor negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers have consumed much of the district’s attention. 

“A lot of our time in the fall was taken up with the contract negotiations,” he says. “Everyone would agree there are more productive things we could have been working on.”

Five years ago, Smith debuted Milestones as a new way for the district, the public and School Board members to monitor PPS’s overall student progress and efforts to close the racial achievement gap.

The School Board uses Milestones to evaluate Smith. And the public uses Milestones to evaluate the district.

Milestones tracks five basic questions annually: Are students ready to read by the start of first grade? Are they reading for content by the start of third grade? Are they ready for high school at the end of eighth grade? Are they on track to graduate by the start of their sophomore year? And how many students graduate on time?

Though Milestones is not out, some of the numbers related to it are. Last fall, Melissa Goff, executive director of the PPS office of teaching and learning, reported to the School Board that the gap between the overall number of PPS students and minorities on track to graduate high school had widened.

Goff said last school year that 25 percent of the district’s third-grade readers failed the state’s reading assessment, compared to 24 percent the previous year.

The results showed declines for all minority groups except Native Americans. African-American and Latino students failed the test at the rate of 53 percent and 49 percent, respectively, a one-point increase for both groups.

“Over time we have seen sustained student gains, but we did have a dip,” Cowie says. “We are putting ourselves on pace to meet the state’s goals. And we want to be consistent with how we are setting targets, and how we are preparing kids at each step of the way so they can succeed and finish high school and ultimately  go on to a competitive career or college.” 

 
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