The State Board of Education's decision to increase the score students need to pass the state's annual math exam likely will mean fewer Ashland students will pass the test this spring and could cause district schools to fail to meet federal adequate yearly progress standards, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said Monday.

The State Board of Education's decision to increase the score students need to pass the state's annual math exam likely will mean fewer Ashland students will pass the test this spring and could cause district schools to fail to meet federal adequate yearly progress standards, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said Monday.

Di Chiro and all other Southern Oregon superintendents sent a letter to the board last month asking it not to alter the way it scores the math portion of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, but the board voted 5-2 to enact the change at its Oct. 28 meeting.

"It was very disheartening to us that the board decided to do this," she told the Ashland School Board last week. "It definitely is going to have an impact."

Di Chiro wrote the letter, which was signed by all 14 members of the Southern Oregon Educational Service District Superintendents Association.

The changes will result in the statewide elementary passing rate declining from 90 to 47 percent, the middle school rate declining from 45 to 15 percent and the high school rate dropping from 46 to 31 percent, according to Oregon Department of Education estimates that Di Chiro referenced in her letter.

Schools fail to meet adequate yearly progress if they have a high proportion of students who don't pass the exam.

"The projection is that there are many, many schools that will not be able to demonstrate adequate yearly progress," Di Chiro said.

Schools that don't meet adequate yearly progress two years in a row start to see sanctions that increase in severity if the schools continue to fail to meet the standard, set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, she said.

The OAKS scoring change will take effect this academic year and will mean students need to score about seven points higher to meet state standards and 14 points higher to exceed them.

A seven-point increase in the scoring is significant, Di Chiro said.

"From a statistical standpoint, a seven-point change is a fairly steep change," she said. "However, it's important to realize that it doesn't change how kids are actually performing on these tests."

The board voted to enact the scoring change because the test was not accurately predicting how students would score in subsequent years. Students who scored high on the test in elementary school might fail it in high school, which caused problems for parents and teachers trying to target which students needed extra help, Di Chiro said.

The Southern Oregon superintendents agree that the test wasn't accurately predicting future results, but they disagreed with the timing and severity of the scoring change, she said.

"There's no argument that that discrepancy existed, but it seems like bad timing and to do all in one year was a concern," Di Chiro said.

The superintendents asked the state board to not enact the change or to at least phase it in over a period of three years.

The timing of the scoring change seems unfair, because schools are likely to have fewer resources next year to help students who don't pass the test, Di Chiro said.

"It's going to be extremely difficult now, given the economy, to put extra resources into helping kids pass the test," she said.

Di Chiro anticipates that the state may again reduce funding for education this year, forcing schools to make even deeper cuts than they have in the past two years.

"I would not be at all surprised if the revenue forecast continues to go down," she said.

State economists are expected to issue a new revenue forecast Friday, but it will likely be several weeks before Di Chiro knows how the forecast will affect the district, she said.

The superintendents also thought the scoring change was unnecessary because the state is expected to replace the OAKS test with a new national test in 2014 or 2015, Di Chiro said. Oregon is developing the test with several other states, to try to conform more closely to federal education requirements, she said.

Students are required to take the OAKS test every year in third through eighth grades, and once in 11th grade. In previous years, students took the test in 10th grade but the board decided this year to move it back a grade, in order to give students more time to take the courses that the test covers, such as geometry, Di Chiro said.

The math portion of the test has different scoring formulas for each grade level, but third-graders will now need to score 212 points to pass and 11th-graders will need to score 236 points to pass.

In the coming weeks, Di Chiro said she will apply the changes to Ashland students' math scores from last year to estimate how the new scoring will affect the district. The district's students typically perform better on the test than students statewide, but the change will almost certainly result in fewer Ashland students passing the test, she said.

Even though Ashland schools won't be as affected by the scoring change as some other schools with lower test scores, Di Chiro said she felt it was important to take a leadership role in asking the state board not to implement the change.

"It's important for a school district that's doing well to take the lead in speaking out against things like this," she said. "It's important that we join in the conversation."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.