Ashland schools earned high marks in a city-by-city review of student performance by the Oregon Department of Education.

Ashland schools earned high marks in a statewide review of student performance by the Oregon Department of Education.

The department this week published its annual district report cards for the 2008-09 school year, with all local schools scoring at or above the level set out by state education officials.

Bellview Elementary School and Helman Elementary School earned "outstanding" marks from the state department, as did Ashland Middle School and Ashland High School.

Walker Elementary and John Muir School each received "satisfactory" marks.

The report cards weigh heavily on student performance on state assessments, but also on attendance, graduation and dropout rates, expulsions and teacher experience.

"This is the state's way of saying, 'You guys are doing an exceptional job,'" AHS Principal Jeff Schlecht said. Schlecht said he was proud, but not surprised, to see the high school score so well.

"It's a really significant validation," said Schlecht. "You have to consider the hard work, passion and expertise teachers have put in from kindergarten through 12th grade, not just at the high school."

Statewide, 61 percent of schools received a satisfactory rating, with five percent of schools designated as in need of improvement.

But Ashland schools have met or exceeded the state mark each year since the legislature mandated annual progress tests in 1999.

Schlecht says Ashland parents deserve a fair share of credit. He said the city's Youth Activities and Academics Levy, a property tax that has raised several million dollars for the school district, is proof that parents will go to great length to ensure the highest quality education for their children.

"Citizens of Ashland went to the ballot box to support their schools. We could not be as successful without these community partnerships," Schlecht said. "This shows they are getting their money's worth."

The 2008-09 report card shows AHS sophomores passed math and reading assessments at a rate considerably higher than the rest of the state. Those higher test scores hold steady through 11th and 12th grade. Over the past three years, Schlecht said, 85 percent of graduating seniors have enrolled in two- or four-year colleges.

"AHS has the highest attendance in its history. It has the lowest dropout rate and highest graduation rate in its history. SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement scores are at a national level of recognition," he said. "It's just incredible for a public school to see that kind of commitment from kids and teachers."

The state report card is issued each year to identify schools that are in need of improvement. Its goal is to target students in underperforming schools and bring their test scores up within three years, through individual assistance and teacher aid programs.

AHS offers similar services to underperforming students through its special education program. But a student at the high school is more likely to be found looking for advanced placement classes than the special education classes. For that, Schlecht says credit is deserved all around.

"In Ashland, you have a very unique combination of parents who value education, a dedicated teaching staff and a very supportive community," he said. "We bring out the best in each other."

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at eglucklich@gmail.com.