Ashland students, particularly the last cohort tested before college, were well prepared for year-end reading, writing, math and science tests, according to results released by the Oregon Department of Education Thursday.

According to the ODE report, 85.8 percent of the high school juniors in Ashland who participated were proficient — that is, scored a Level 3 or 4 on a four-level scale — in English language arts, while 69.3 percent were proficient in science and 61.1 percent in math.

Those marks all represented improvements over last year’s junior class in all three subjects, an uptick Ashland middle schoolers also were able to accomplish when compared to last year’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Ashland’s 11th-grade test results also far exceeded state averages and stood out as a bright spot in the Rogue Valley. According to the ODE, 69.4 percent of Oregon’s high school juniors were proficient in English language arts, 33.9 percent in math and 56 percent in science.

“I’m thrilled with how we performed generally as a district,” Ashland High School Principal Erika Bare said. “I think our scores show continued growth and we’re leading the pack in the state, which is really encouraging. The high school in particular we grew in every area. I always like to think, ‘Are we running a little faster in this race than we did in the last one?’ And I feel like we are so I’m really pleased.”

The Smarter Balanced tests for reading, writing and math — Oregon still uses Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) for science testing — were developed by a consortium of 13 states to provide more accurate and meaningful information about what students are learning. In Oregon, students in grades 3-8 and 11 are tested near the end of each school year.

Ashland’s 11th graders showed significant gains in math and science and a modest improvement in reading and writing, jumping 7.3 percentage points in math and 6.6 in science from 2015-16. Ashland middle schoolers also improved in each, most notably in science, in which a whopping 91.8 percent of eighth-graders were proficient compared to 80.1 percent in 2015-16. Only fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders take the OAKS science test.

Ashland fifth-graders tested slightly better than last year’s fifth-grade cohort in math (60.7 percent) and science (84.3) and dipped slightly to 70.4 percent proficiency in English language arts.

Ashland once again set the bar for southern Oregon, as South Medford High, North Medford High and Phoenix High all tested between 66.7 percent and 71.7 percent proficiency in English language arts, and between 30 percent (South Medford) and 40.9 percent in math.

“The state assessments are one of several indicators we use to look at the effectiveness of instruction and overall student success,” Ashland Director of Student Services Samuel Bogdanove said in an email. “It’s good to see where we are helping students achieve. The data is also useful in helping us look at individual students or student groups that require different approaches or additional supports. Over the coming weeks, sites will review their data more closely and provide feedback to teachers as they use the data to inform what they do in classrooms. We also use the data at the school and district level to support teachers and guide our professional development.”

The improvement in the 11th-grade cohort was a solid one-year uptick but more substantial when you compare the numbers to 2014-15, when 81.7 percent of AHS 11th-graders were proficient in English language arts, 50.2 percent in math and 61 percent in science. That means this year’s tests represent a 10.9 percent two-year improvement in math, an 8.3 percent improvement in science and a 4.1 percent improvement in English language arts.

When asked if that’s because Ashland High teachers now have a more firm grasp of how to prepare their students for the test, Bare said that's a backwards way of approaching it.

“Our teachers do not teach to the test,” she said. “We provide excellent instruction and we hope that that shows in the assessments that the state provides for us and I think it has shown that. We’re really focused on a whole child approach to education and we’re heartened that that’s showing in the results on these assessments.

“I think the reason we continue to see increased scores is because the standards that we’re using — the common core standards which are really solid, rigorous standards — these students that are coming up every year have been exposed to this particular standard more and more years, so I really think it’s their overall preparation K-12. I also think we have the most amazing students, and they get more and more amazing every year. But there’s also been an increased emphasis on rigor, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and I think all of those things are going to help students as they approach these standardized assessments.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.