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Preschool Key To Improving Low Oregon Graduation Rates

Rob Manning/OPB

Oregon has the lowest high school graduation rate of any state, less than 69 percent in 20-13. The state's long-term plan to improve graduation rates starts really early - with preschoolers. 

After school on a hot spring day, Roy and his older brother, Dude, ran around the playground at Earl Boyles Elementary School in East Portland. Their shirts were off and their long, blond hair flew behind them as they ran.
There’s no mistaking they’re brothers. But they have their differences. For instance, 5-year-old Roy spends three hours a day at the new Earl Boyles preschool, which didn’t exist when Dude was his age.  
“It’s pretty clear that Dude didn’t have that preschool experience,” said their mom, Debra Rabedeau. 

Dude, now in second grade, requires extra assistance in reading.

Research shows preschool builds a foundation for literacy. Oregon students who are strong readers by third grade graduate 77 percent of the time. If they’re not? The Oregon graduation rate is 53 percent.

“Kids who are in high-quality preschool — particularly low-income kids — are far more likely to graduate from high school,” said Swati Adarkar of the Portland-based Children’s Institute. “They’re far more likely to go on to college, they’re far more likely not to need special education as they go on in the elementary grades. These are all huge game-changers.”

Earl Boyles Elementary has six preschool sections. Kids listen to stories, play games, recite letters and numbers. On a recent morning, Roy sat on a carpet, drawing and spelling out the letters in “snake.”

Around the corner, his brother, Dude, sat in a room dedicated to helping struggling readers.

If you look at how many kids need help with reading, it’s clear preschool is making a difference, said Lindsay DiFazio, a reading teacher. 
“Our second-grade classroom is completely full and they’re staying there. They’re making slow but steady growth,” she said.
But it’s a different story for Earl Boyles’ kindergarteners. Many of them were part of a preschool pilot last year. 
“Our kindergarteners — because they’ve had those foundational skills presented — are picking them up, much more rapidly,” DiFazio said. 
Just peek into her room at kindergarten time. It’s less than half-full. Dude’s brother Roy enters kindergarten next year, along with Earl Boyles’ largest preschool class so far.

Copyright 2015 OPB