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Oregon Ed. Investment Board Using Achievement 'Compacts'

I did not mention the Oregon Education Investment Board in my March 28 story on governor-driven education legislation in 2012, because the board was actually established through state legislation last year. However, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber is chairman of that board, and this month the board approved a draft of "achievement compacts" that districts will have to enter with the state. So it's worth examining, particularly since there is a potential for conflict between the districts and the state's chief education officer.

The 13-member board approved the draft March 13. School districts and higher-education institutions must establish their own targets in various categories, although the state won't impose penalties if they don't meet those targets. For K-12 schools, those categories are college and career readiness, student progression, equity, local priorities, and financial investment.

In the student progression category, for example, districts must track readiness for kindergarten as measured by a test now in development; 3rd grade proficiency in math and reading; and the percentage of students earning nine or more college credits before graduating. In college and career readiness, graduation rates and the share of student enrolled in post-secondary courses will also be monitored.

Funding from various sources for each school district is also taken into account. And the usual categories based on students' race, English-language proficiency, economic status, and disability status are broken out in the college and career readiness and progression categories.

The compacts are designed to help Oregon get its ducks in a row for meeting its "40-40-20" goal by 2025. This refers to having 40 percent of Oregonians earn a bachelor's degree or higher, 40 percent earn at least an associate's degree or technical certificate, and 20 percent earn at least a high school diploma or equivalent. They are also being used in the state's application for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

One potential difficulty is just how much oversight the state will have in terms of the statistical targets districts select for themselves. A spokeswoman for the investment board, Sarah Ames, said March 29 the board will provide guidance to school districts as they set their compacts' targets, which are due in July for the 2012-13 school year. This guidance will take into account a school district's standing in various areas to make sure the goals are attainable, she said.

However, language from the board about the achievement compacts states, "Any decision of the Chief Education Officer shall be considered a final decision. There is no appeal process under the temporary rules adopted March 27 by the OEIB (Oregon Education Investment Board)."

UPDATE: Kitzhaber's education advisor, Ben Cannon, told me March 30 that while one or a handful of districts may end up disputing their proposed compacts with the chief education officer and investment board, officials believe school districts don't want to be viewed as setting their achievement bars too low.

Cannon said state officials will "shine a spotlight" and "lean on" any districts that they believe are not being ambitious enough in their achievement compacts. But he also said Kitzhaber's office will be examining past achievement data to help districts set the right goals.

"I'm confident that there will be a lot of communication between now and July that helps reduce the likelihood of conflict in the summer," he said.

Rather than seeing schools districts complain about similar districts who set lower achievement goals, Cannon said he anticipated that similar districts will end up competing against each other to set the highest realistic goals.

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