After backlash, education officials release state school data

Pamplin Media Group Gov. Brown took heat when her education chief delayed release of “school report cards” until after the election.

Gov. Kate Brown, embroiled in a sudden political firestorm, on Wednesday directed her state education administrators to immediately release school performance data they intended to withhold until after the election.

The state Department of Education had provided what are generally known as “school report cards” to local districts Oct. 4, and they were told to prepare for public release of the information on Oct. 25. On Monday, however, department spokesman Marc Siegel told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the release would be pushed back several weeks.

In a hastily arranged news conference in Portland, Colt Gill, the department’s director, announced that Brown had asked him to release the data immediately. Gill said the change was the result of a strong backlash over the previously announced delay. His announcement came 30 minutes before the scheduled start of a news conference by Brown’s chief competitor, state Rep. Knute Buehler, to address the delay. “The governor has clearly seen from the community that people would like to see these reports now,” Gill said Wednesday afternoon.

Gill said he decided in early October to delay the release of the information, which typically is released in October. He said he wasn’t driven by politics or pushed by Brown to do so. He said he did reach out to Brown’s staff to tell of the planned delay, and was told to move forward, but never directly talked to Brown about it. He said the delay was needed because the department hadn’t yet put together a tutorial and other tools to help educators digest the data.

Gill also said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, has created an issue for Oregon. The law tracks student participation in standardized tests as one measure of success, but Oregon law allows students to opt out of such testing. The metric would unfairly penalize schools with low participation in testing, even if the school otherwise is doing well on metrics, Gill said.

Finding a way to account for that took extra time and was part of the delay, he said.

“It’s important we deliver the tool kits to make use of that data … in a format that can be read by everyone,” Gill said in a press conference.

Gill told reporters he was surprised by the strong public reaction to word the results would be delayed.

The state released the data just after 2 p.m. Oct. 24, allowing people to look up individual schools’ performance. The format, however, doesn’t provide any easy way for people to compare the schools. Such information would be released by Nov. 13, Gill said.

At his news conference, Buehler implied Brown was behind the decision to delay the reports until after the election. Buehler said after weeks of bad publicity about education, Brown placed her political ambitions above students and teachers by hiding the reports. “What bad news is Gov. Brown hiding?” Buehler said.

After learning that the Education Department was releasing some information, Buehler tweeted: “It shouldn’t take the threat of the governor losing her election for her to do the right thing. Her instinct for secrecy — from school report cards to her entire 2019 legislative agenda — is very troubling.”

Brown’s office Wednesday afternoon reiterated in a statement that she did not order the delay. “We should all remember that at the end of the day, this data is not about an election or politics,” the statement said. “It’s about improving our schools. My top priority as governor is to give Oregon’s students the tools they need to succeed.”

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: aubrey@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1251. He is a reporter for Salem Reporter working with the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of the Pamplin Media Group, EO Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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