Deputy Schools Superintendent Rob Saxton announced Thursday that Oregon's 4-year graduation rate for 2013 was 68.7%, up only slightly from the previous year's rate of 68.4%.
The 4-year graduation rate has increased 2.5% over the past five years.
Here's the rest of the Oregon Department of Education news release, including positive results at Bend-La Pine Schools and Madras High School:
When the graduation rate increases, generally we would anticipate seeing a flat or declining dropout rate. However, this year, that was not the case.
As part of ongoing data improvement efforts, the state identified an issue relating to the reporting of dropout data. Previous years' reports did not include students who dropped out during the month of June.
Including these June dropouts, a total of 3.98% of students dropped out of high school last year. This is a more accurate dropout count than counts from previous years and should be considered a new baseline.
"While I'm pleased to see our graduation numbers increasing, we simply aren't seeing the pace of change we need," Saxton said. "However, true systems change – including how well we support our students on their path to higher education and workforce training – takes time and starts early. "
"Our recently released kindergarten assessment results are an excellent reminder of the importance of giving students that strong early start. Improving our graduation rate begins with getting students prepared for kindergarten, ensuring they are strong readers by third grade, making sure to address issues of chronic absenteeism, and finally helping students connect to the world of work and earn college credits while in high school.
"We have laid the foundation for these critical efforts, and I believe that if we keep moving forward with intention and urgency we will start to see more significant gains. But change will not happen overnight, and it will not happen without all of us working to improve the opportunities and outcomes for our students," Saxton concluded.
Oregon has set an ambitious goal, known as 40-40-20, that calls for a 100% high school completion rate by the year 2025. This means that 100% of students would earn a high school diploma or equivalent within five years of entering high school.
In order to capture how well our state is doing in getting all students to the high school completion mark, the Oregon Department of Education tracks both a 4-year and 5-year high school graduation rate and a 4-year and 5-year high school completer rate.
The graduation rates look at the number of students who receive a regular high school diploma within 4 or 5 years of entering high school. The completer rates are broader than the graduation rates and also include students who received a GED, Modified Diploma, Extended Diploma, or Adult High School Diploma within that timeframe. Last year, Oregon's five year completion rate was 81.5%, up 1 percent from the previous year.
"As we work towards reaching the state goal of 100% of students completing high school by 2025, these results certainly aren't in line with where we hoped we'd be," said Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden "That said, meaningful systemic change does take time, and I believe deeply in the alignment, collaboration, and focus we're building throughout the system in support of student achievement.
"For example, we know that students are four times more likely to graduate high school if they are reading by third grade so, among other efforts, our collective laser focus will be on preparing students early for future success."
The latest data shows the state still faces large graduation gaps for many underserved student groups. However, we are starting to see a narrowing of some of these gaps, particularly for our African-American and Hispanic students.
Over the past five years, the graduation rate for African-American students has increased almost 10% and the graduation rate for Hispanic students has increased over 8%. While the graduation rates for both of these groups are still well below the state average, the gains are impressive and point to real successes in supporting students on their pathway to graduation.
However, there are also some concerning trends where the graduation gaps are actually getting wider. This is most notable for Special Education students whose graduation rate has dropped more than 5% over the past five years.
The Power of a Fifth Year
The numbers also highlight the impact that a fifth year of high school can have on preparing a student for graduation. Students stay in high school for a fifth year for a number of reasons including to complete graduation requirements, participate in a particular 5-year program focused on earning college credit, or build skills in order to successfully demonstrate proficiency in the essential skills.
And more students are opting to stay in school past the traditional four years. Last year, 4,475 students – an increase of almost 300 over the previous year – chose to enroll in high school for a fifth year. This shift has resulted in lower graduation rates at some schools.
Despite a relatively flat statewide graduation rate, a majority of schools saw an increase in graduation rates last year, with some schools and districts posting impressive gains.
Bend-La Pine Schools has seen a 10.4% increase in the graduation rate over the past few years, from 68.2% in 2010-2011 to 78.6% in 2012-2013. Bend-La Pines' Mountain View High School and Bend Senior High both posted particularly strong gains over that time, with 14.2% and 11.5% increases respectively.
Portland Public Schools also saw gains, with close to a 4% increase since last year district-wide. Portland's Jefferson High and Franklin High have increased graduation rates 12.2% and 13.8% respectively since 2010-11.
And Jefferson County's Madras High School has seen a 10% increase in graduation rates since 2010-11, increasing rates from 57% to 67%.
Both Jefferson High and Madras High are very diverse schools with high levels of student poverty that have struggled to increase graduation rates in the past and are now receiving some additional attention to turn things around through Oregon's Focus and Priority Schools program.
The schools are now focused on providing culturally responsive instruction, an attention to personalized learning, and targeted interventions to re-engage students and keep them on track to graduate.
"I am pleased to see the gains made by some of our high schools this year," said Saxton. "In particular, I am encouraged by the gains made by schools like Madras and Jefferson – majority-minority schools where three quarters or more of students are from low-income families. We have made turning things around at these schools a priority, and while there is clearly much work left to be done, these results point to the commitment, hard-work, and dedication of the staff and students of these schools."
Demonstrating Your Skills
In order to earn a diploma, students now need to do more than simply complete the required coursework. This cohort is the second required to demonstrate their reading skills in order to earn a diploma – and the first required to demonstrate their ability to write well.
These new requirements, known as the Essential Skills, were first adopted by the State Board of Education in 2007, along with increased credit requirements and an emphasis on personalized learning to ensure that all graduates left school with a strong foundation that would prepare them for college and career.
The requirements were phased-in over time, with the reading requirement coming on board first, followed by writing, and finally math – which will be a graduation requirement for this year's seniors.
Students can meet the Essential Skills requirements in a variety of ways including passing state tests or completing locally-scored work samples. A report on how this year's graduates met their Essential Skills is available online.
While we track graduation based on four and five year cohorts of students, the federal government still requires states to report a one-year dropout rate. This rate is calculated by looking at the number of students who drop out (grades 9-12) in a given school year.
This means that the dropout rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate. Students who receive GEDs, modified diplomas, etc., are not considered either graduates or dropouts but are included in the four- and five-year completer rates. Click here for more information on dropout rates in Oregon.
As mentioned earlier, the Department of Education identified a systems error that had resulted in previous years' reports not including students who had dropped out during the month of June. This error has been addressed and we have identified 949 students who dropped out during the month of June.
In total, 7,086 students dropped out of Oregon high schools last year for a dropout rate of 3.98%, up from 3.37% in 2011-12.
If previous years' methodology were applied to last year's results, dropout rates would have been up only very slightly to 3.44%. This indicates that while a few more students did drop out last year, the vast majority of the increase was due to correcting the systems error. This year's results are the most complete and accurate reported in state history and should be considered a new baseline.
For school district cohort graduation data, go to: http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=2644
For dropout data, go to: www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=1
For the Essential Skills report, go to: http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=2042
To access an FAQ on the graduation and dropout rates, go to: http://www.ode.state.or.us/wma/data/schoolanddistrict/students/docs/cohort-faq-2012-13.pdf