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New Reports On Oregon Schools Show An Overall Improvement In Attendance

The Oregon Department of Education released its At-A-Glance Profiles for schools and districts Thursday — brief dashboard summaries of how schools are doing, with data on attendance, student achievement and whether students are on-track to graduate. 

According to the 2018-2019 school year data, chronic absenteeism — the share of students who miss at least 10% of a school year — didn’t get worse. 

“For the first time since we’ve started reporting chronic absenteeism rates, we’ve seen them flatten out,” said Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education.

While the overall change in attendance is nearly unchanged from the year before, high schools showed a more pronounced shift, with absentee rates decreasing about a half percent. 

ODE education specialist Marnie Jewell said it’s a sign of progress for the state’s Every Day Matters campaign to increase school attendance.

“We have districts showing up to meet students' needs,” Jewell said. “That might mean buying a washer and dryer, so students have clean clothes. It might mean providing additional transportation when students miss the bus and going and picking them up.”

Twenty-seven school districts throughout the state received additional funding from a state grant to improve attendance. They include Butte Falls, where regular attendance increased 7%, and Centennial School District, which saw improvements at the middle and high school levels.

The profiles, now in their second year, also include new information that in some cases the state hadn't previously collected or shared publicly. Schools have started tracking the number of nonbinary students. However, the reported student population is so small, state officials say it's impossible to draw conclusions about how that student population is doing.

Student mobility is also a part of this year’s profiles — tracking the number of students changing schools mid-year or with significant enrollment gaps.

Several of the school districts with the highest mobility rates have online public charter schools in the district, including the Mitchell, Santiam Canyon and North Bend districts.

“Understanding how many students are experiencing mobility is really important because it does have an impact, in Oregon, on overall outcomes,” Gill said. “We know that the graduation rate for students who are mobile during their high school years decreases dramatically and that these are students that require extra attention and support from the district that they are being served by.”

ODE is now using data from the National Student Clearinghouse to illustrate how many students enroll in a 2- or 4-year college within a year of completing high school.

Rates increased at every Portland Public Schools high school except one – Benson Polytechnic High School, where college-going rates decreased by 4%. Using the same metric, rates at half of Salem-Keizer’s high schools decreased. And in Beaverton, three high schools had decreases in college-going rates.

But college-going rates at most of the high schools in Oregon’s three largest districts are above the state average of 62%.

Gill said many of the data points in these profiles will be helpful to families and school districts as they figure out how to spend funds from the Student Success Act — the $1 billion annual fund lawmakers created by enacting a tax on commercial activity. Gill pointed out measures such as regular attendance rates, graduation rates, and ninth grade on-track rates – the percentage of students who have one-fourth of the credits required to graduate by the time they finish their first year of high school. 

At 85.3%, the ninth grade on-track rate was Oregon’s highest in several years, an almost 1% increase from 2017-2018. 

“That number is good news for Oregon students,” Gill said.

Gill said that number could mean higher graduation rates in the future.

New this year, the state also asked districts for the number of licensed librarians and psychologists. Forty-four of Oregon’s 197 school districts have at least one licensed librarian on staff. Sixty-two of them have at least one psychologist.

The psychologist metric could also be integral to planning around the Student Success Act. One purpose of the $500 million going to school districts is to address students' mental and behavioral health needs.

“The school psychologist measure is another way to look at what kinds of supports do districts have available for their students,” Gill said.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Elizabeth Miller is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Elizabeth is an Ohio native and a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University.