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At 81.3%, Oregon graduation rate up slightly after last year’s decline

Students head to classes at a high school in Forest Grove, Ore., in this May 4, 2017 file photo.
Don Ryan
/
AP
Students head to classes at a high school in Forest Grove, Ore., in this May 4, 2017 file photo.

Oregon’s four-year graduation rate is up slightly, to 81.3% for the Class of 2022. It's the second-highest rate recorded for Oregon students.

The four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2022 in Oregon was 81.3%, a small increase over last year’s graduation rate.

Graduation rates improved across all student groups. Some of the largest gains were for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders and among students experiencing homelessness. The graduation rate for migrant students jumped too, surpassing the state average.

Director of the Oregon Department of Education Colt Gill cited the increase in graduation rates and the proportion of 9th grade students on track to graduate as signs that students are recovering from distance learning and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are beginning to see our students and our educators work hard to overcome unfinished learning that happened during the pandemic and see their resilience showing through with some increased outcomes at this high school level,” Gill said.

The rate of students graduating from high school within five years dipped for the first time since 2014. The five-year graduation rate includes students who took an extra year of high school. The five-year grad rate slipped from 84.5% in 2020 to 83.8% in 2021. The five-year completer rate, which also declined, includes students who may have earned equivalency diplomas. The completer rate dropped from 87.8% in 2020 to 86.5% in 2021. Data for students graduating or completing high school in five years is always a year behind the four-year graduation rate.

ODE Director of Accountability and Reporting Jon Wiens said “it’s not too surprising” that the five-year rate was lower, given students in that graduating class also had a lower four-year graduation rate the previous year, in 2021. Wiens also said a lack of available GED tests may have contributed to the decline.

“I think we’ve seen lower GED counts in the last couple of cohorts,” Wiens said.

Even with increases for 11 of the student groups ODE tracks, all but three of the groups have graduation rates below the state’s 81.3% average.



SOURCE: Oregon Department of Education

“While these groups have graduation rates that are lower than we would eventually like to see, we are making progress over time,” Wiens said.

Oregon’s graduation rate reached an all-time high for the Class of 2020 – when schools closed to in-person learning and seniors who were passing their courses in March 2020 were allowed to graduate. In 2021, graduation rates declined.

Despite Oregon’s graduation rate increasing nine percentage points from 2014, Oregon remains in the lower half of states when it comes to the percentage of students who graduate in four years. The latest national data available — for the COVID-affected Class of 2020 — show Oregon placing at around 38 of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In the middle of the last decade, Oregon drew headlines for having the worst high school graduation rate of any state.

The Class of 2022 was the third class without a requirement to prove they’d mastered “essential skills.” For several years, Oregon required students to show mastery of reading, writing and math — usually achieved by scoring well on a standardized test — in order to earn a diploma. A bill removed the requirement until at least the 2024-2025 school year.

Gill said Oregon’s graduation requirements, which includes earning 24 credits, make Oregon one of the stricter states to graduate in.

“I think that our students are being well-prepared, I think Oregon has a very rigorous diploma requirement,” Gill said.

“What we need to concentrate on is helping those students who still aren’t making it in our system to be able to get over the line and earn that diploma.”

This is likely ODE director Colt Gill’s last year leading the Oregon Department of Education. Reflecting on the state’s improved graduation rate over the last five years, Gill said the department has worked to center Oregon’s most marginalized students. He cited the state’s Student Success Act, which is sending billions of dollars to schools via a new business tax; new policies to improve school climate through the Every Student Belongs rule; and additional grant money through the Measure 98 High School Success plan.

“The way that we’re going to get increased outcomes for all students is by addressing students who have been long underserved in Oregon schools,” Gill said.

Big three, Portland-metro area school districts see specific gains for student groups

Two of Oregon’s three largest school districts saw increases in their overall graduation rate, while one saw a decline.

The graduation rate for Portland Public Schools, Oregon’s largest district, increased by 1.3 percentage points, from 84.4% in 2021 to 85.7% in 2022.

“We are pleased to observe continued improvement in our graduation rates at Portland Public Schools,” said PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero in a statement released Thursday.

“This is a testament to the hard work of our students, families, educators, support staff and leaders. We remain committed to working at making sure every student achieves success.”

Students walk the halls of South Salem High School in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.
Elizabeth Miller /
Students walk the halls of South Salem High School in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.

District officials singled out graduation rate improvements as evidence that the state’s largest district is “making progress with our most historically underserved student groups,” said PPS Chief of Schools Jon Franco.

Though the graduation rate for Black students statewide only increased by 0.2 percentage points, in PPS, the graduation rate for Black students increased by almost 4%. The graduation rate for the district’s relatively small population of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students also improved by 10 percentage points.

“We’ll continue building on this positive momentum until student achievement is no longer predicted by race,” Franco said.

Graduation rates varied by Portland high school, with increases at Cleveland, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, McDaniel and the Metropolitan Learning Center. Graduation rates declined nearly everywhere else.

Portland-area school districts saw both increases and declining graduation rates. Of eight Multnomah county districts, half saw increased graduation rates, though the majority of the districts fell below the statewide graduation rate. Both the Reynolds and David Douglas school districts had increases of at least four percentage points.

Graduation rates in the Salem-Keizer school district declined by 1.1 percentage points, though the district saw gains for specific student groups including an 11-point increase for migrant students and a 5.7-point increase for Indigenous students.

In a release made public Thursday, Salem-Keizer officials pointed out the district’s five-year graduation rate, 83.1%, reflected an increase of 0.8 percentage points from the previous year. Salem-Keizer superintendent Christy Perry said the increase shows “commitment” to helping students finish high school.

“Both the four-year and five-year graduation rates demonstrate to the community our commitment to keep students engaged and on a pathway to graduation,” Perry said.

“We know we have more work to do and will continue to improve our systems on behalf of our students. Our educators care deeply about each student and their success and demonstrate this daily.”

Similar to Portland, across schools in the Salem area, there were increases at a couple of schools while the graduation rate at other schools fell. Beaverton saw similar variations on a school-by-school basis, as well.

Beaverton’s district-wide graduation rate improved by 0.7 percentage points, from 88.4% to 89.1%.

There was a notable decline in graduation rates for students in Beaverton’s FLEX Online School, from 80.7% for the Class of 2021 to 66.1% for last year’s graduating class, though the cohort of students almost quadrupled between the two classes.

Dropout rate increases from last year, but data not comparable

In addition to publishing graduation rate data Thursday, the Oregon Department of Education shared pushout, or dropout rates for the 2021-2022 school year.

The percentage of students who dropped out and did not graduate or re-enroll in another school was 4.07%. That’s a big increase from 2020-21, when the rate was 1.81%.

But state officials said this number is not comparable to dropout rates for years before the pandemic, due to reporting changes.

For the 2020-2021 school year, the state suspended its rule that schools should remove students from their enrollment lists if they are absent for 10 consecutive days. That left some students still on their enrollment rolls even if they were no longer attending school. Students who stayed out of school in 2021-2022 were then carried over and counted as dropouts for that year, which ODE’s Jon Wiens said contributed to the high dropout rate.

“It’s just an example of how the pandemic has sometimes lasting effects not only on students, but on our data systems,” Wiens said.

The numbers for the two years prior were significantly lower – 2.38% and 1.81%.

Wiens said data for this school year, which is still being collected, should be comparable to pre-pandemic years.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.