Local Schools’ Test Results Down but Per-Student Cost Up

Student academic assessment results are better than last school year yet remain well below pre-pandemic levels for English Language Arts and Mathematics. This is true locally and statewide. [For statewide assessment results see “Oregon School Testing” article on page 10.]

While students struggle, spending continues to increase, with the Oregon Legislature approving a record $10.2 billion dollars for the Oregon Department of Education in the current biennial budget.

Locally, school spending continues to increase, with per-student spending exceeding $24,000 for the 2023-24 school year.

Let’s take a look at assessment results for Grants Pass School District 7 and Three Rivers School District and then consider per-student expenditures.

Both districts showed improvement over the previous year. Grants Pass SD 7 continues to exceed Oregon state averages for English Language Arts. Both districts’ results remain below their pre-COVID assessment levels.

Source: Oregon Department of Education.

The Eagle reached out to district superintendents for comment on this year’s assessment results.

District 7 Superintendent Tim Sweeney stated in an email, “We are pleased with the growth, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re excited for the fact that we are one of only a handful of school districts in the state to show growth in both reading and math across every grade level, in every school. We’re pleased, but not satisfied. We want to see more growth, and we’re working daily towards that end.”

The superintendents were also asked about efforts in the current school year to improve student proficiency.

Said Sweeney, “We’re making significant investments in professional development and training for our staff teaching these subjects, to ensure they have access to the most effective tools and resources. By doing so, we ensure our students receive explicit, high leverage instruction that engages, challenges and encourages their growth. Alongside this focus, we will continue to provide the same resources and support that have contributed to our success last year such as the addition of Behavior Intervention Specialists at each elementary school, and instructional coaches who come alongside and support new teachers. Additionally, we will maintain offerings such as after-school tutoring, small group reading and math intervention, and at the middle school level, two periods dedicated to reading and writing for students in need of extra support.”

No comments were received from the Three Rivers superintendent by press time.

Per-student expenditures

Student enrollment figures remain below pre-COVID levels, while per-student spending continues to increase. Public schools are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars. Taken together, the total approved budget can be divided by the projected number of students to determine the average amount spent per student. When student enrollment declines and total district spending increases, the amount budgeted per student increases.

The COVID-19 school shutdowns continue to affect local enrollment. The District 7 budget document states, “During the pandemic approximately 800 students left District 7 between March 2020 and June 2022. During 2022-23 we saw our enrollment rebound a bit with more than 200 students returning to the district.”

This table shows the amount budgeted per student for the 2023-24 school year for Grants Pass School District 7 and Three Rivers School District.

Source: School district budget documents.

Comparison of Josephine County high schools

The following table compares this year’s assessment results for Josephine County 11th graders against the average assessment result for all Oregon 11th graders.

Source: Oregon Department of Education

Richard Emmons is the Publisher and Editor of the Josephine County Eagle.