Oregon school plan to be detailed

5th, 6th grades would move to 1 building

Fassett Middle School is seen in Oregon.
Fassett Middle School is seen in Oregon.

The Oregon Board of Education is moving ahead with the plan to move fifth and sixth graders into a building of their own and has scheduled a special meeting on the matter for 7 p.m. Monday in Clay High School’s media center.

The general idea of the reconfiguration plan has centered on using the two middle schools to hold two grade levels each — fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth.

Superintendent Michael Zalar said he will disclose the details of the reconfiguration on Monday, including the changes it would mean for daily scheduling. The middle schools, Eisenhower and Fassett, figure prominently in it. The superintendent said he believed the school board would take action on the plan at its Dec. 18 regular meeting.

“The board wants to make sure we’re looking at everything,” he explained. “I will be publicizing a detailed plan. The [Monday] meeting will be a special board meeting as well as a community forum. On the surface, it’s common sense to get all those kids together at those grade levels, but we want to have a plan the public can support.”

Currently, three elementary schools house kindergarten through fifth grades, and the two middle schools have students in grades six, seven, and eight.

The grade reconfiguration is intended to address what Oregon educators have described as underperformance in grades five through eight. Math and science scores have lagged in state assessment tests.

School officials are especially concerned because performance indicators in the middle grades can be expected to fall even more as the state implements more complex and rigorous standards.

The problems with student achievement begin at the fifth grade. Pedagogical research and experience have shown that lumping fifth and sixth graders together is more developmentally age appropriate.

In Oregon, having them under one roof would make balancing class sizes easier. The change also would place teachers in those grade levels together, enabling better instructional planning and coordination.

“We think it’s going to have a significant improvement on student achievement,” Mr. Zalar said of the proposed reconfiguration, which would go into effect in the 2013-14 school year.

The superintendent said he also would lay out the reconfiguration’s financial cost, which he emphasized the district could afford without reducing or eliminating programs or going to the voters with a levy request. In fact, it is possible that some programs, such as music, would be enhanced with the hiring of teachers.

“We’re going to tighten our belts in some areas so we can improve student achievement. The whole focus in this idea is to do what we can to improve our students’ learning outcomes,” he said.