Nearly a fifth of Jackson County's 62 public schools were rated "Outstanding" in the last school year, a marked improvement from the previous year

Nearly a fifth of Jackson County's 62 public schools were rated "Outstanding" in the last school year, a marked improvement from the previous year, according to annual school report cards released Thursday by the state.

In Ashland, Ashland High School, Ashland Middle School, Bellview Elementary, Hellman Elementary and John Muir Elementary all received "Outstanding" scores.

That's the good news. But nine schools in the county also were ranked "In Need of Improvement" by the Oregon Department of Education, eight of which were previously "Satisfactory."

A highlight among the results was Eagle Point High School, which raised its state ranking from "In Need of Improvement" in the 2009-10 school year to "Outstanding" in 2010-11.

"Our staff deserves all the credit," said Eagle Point Principal Allen Barber. "They've been working so diligently."

Barber said the scores reflect progress over the last two years, but the school has been on an upward trend for longer.

"We've been improving steadily for the last four years," said Barber.

The school's test scores not only met state standards of 70 percent proficiency for reading and math, but they surpassed district and state averages in every tested subject, including writing and science.

"I'm happy for the high school. But really it's a reflection of the whole district," said Barber.

Eagle Point High School was one of 12 Jackson County schools ranked "Outstanding" by the Oregon Department of Education, up from seven schools last year.

"It sure makes us smile," said Eagle Point School District Superintendant Cynda Rickert. "We started in a really low spot and we sure are making good ground."

Rickert said she saw improvements district-wide, with higher scores in reading, writing and science in every elementary grade. Math scores didn't improve, but only because math testing was changed and the standards raised since the previous year.

Rickert said a major factor in the district's success has been its choice to continue employing teaching instructors, which are former teachers who help enforce curriculum and support current teachers. Each campus in the district has at least one teaching instructor, according to Rickert.

"We've been strategic and very focused. We're really supporting teaching and learning," Rickert said.

Most schools in the county and state didn't fare nearly as well.

Statewide, 98 schools fell into the "In Need of Improvement" category, primarily because of an inability to keep up with the higher standards in elementary math and overall higher proficiency goals.

Overall proficiency was the stumbling block for Phoenix High School, where a 15 percent improvement in math scores wasn't enough to reach the state-set proficiency standards.

Other Jackson County schools that fell into the "In Need of Improvement" category did so not just because of test scores, but because of other factors measured on the report cards.

The Oregon School Report Cards take into account graduation and dropout rates, demographics, class sizes, SAT scores, attendance and school improvement, in addition to Adequate Yearly Progress results.

This year's report cards used a more rigorous way to measure graduation rates, and weighted it more, causing schools such as North Medford High School to come up short.

North Medford had a four-year graduation rate of 63.8 percent, falling below the state's minimum standard of 65 percent. The school also missed the mark for attendance with just over 89 percent — the state has minimum requirement of 92 percent.

Although North Medford had slightly improved test results in math and reading, and surpassed state standards of 70 percent proficiency, the other factors earned the school a lower ranking.

Results in Jackson County matched statewide numbers, as higher standards were expected to bog down school ratings.

Statewide, 28 percent of schools (333 out of 1,182) were rated "Outstanding," compared with 37 percent last year. Another 64 percent (751 out of 1,182) were rated "Satisfactory," compared with 59 percent last year. Eight percent of schools (98 out of 1,182) were rated as "In Need of Improvement," versus 4 percent last year. Some 104 schools were not rated due to small size, or for being open for less than two years.

To view specific school and district report cards, see www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or by e-mail at tristow@mailtribune.com