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Year of decline for Oregon City makes for a flip-flop in all the three school districts on the urban east side of Clackamas County

Two school districts on the urban east side of Clackamas County that saw declines in graduation rates last year turned things around this year.

The North Clackamas School District's four-year graduation rate went up to 84.05 percent for the 2016-17 school year after a year in decline. NCSD's graduation percentage went down to 80 percent in the 2015-16 school year from 82.5 in the 2014-15 school year. Gains were especially high during the past year for Hispanic/Latino students in NCSD (going from a 74.6 to 84.2 percent four-year rate between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years) and for black/African Ameican students (going from 66.7 to 82.8).

"The news for NCSD was really positive — highest high school graduation rate ever, and the achievement gap was narrowed for almost all student groups," said district spokesman Jonathan Hutchison.

Gladstone High School essentially returned to its graduation rate from the 2015 cohort, when 86.6 percent of its students graduated in four years. Last spring, 86.2 percent of its students graduated on time, compared to its 80.2 four-year graduation rate from 2016.

"I give credit to our students and teachers working together to achieve this success in the classroom. We've worked hard to address the individual needs of students," said GHS Principal Kevin Taylor. "This year we changed our school schedule to provide daily after school teacher support and also added a new credit recovery program."

Districtwide in Gladstone, special education students had more than a 29 percent increase in graduation rates over the past five years and this year topped the state average by 17 percent. Gladstone's economically disadvantaged students made a gain of more than 16 percent in three years.

Oregon City School District four-year graduation rate declined to 82.7 for the cohort that was scheduled to graduate in 2017 after a dramatic increase last year from 81.6 percent to 86.3 percent.

Oregon four-year high school graduation rates, released Thursday, show continued modest improvement.

The number of high school students in the state who graduated on time reached 76.7, a nearly 2-point gain from last year's figure. The graduate rate, widely reported to be one of the worst in the nation, has been slowly rising since changes three years ago to include students who earn modified diplomas.

Even with the modified diplomas added, however, students with disabilities continued to graduate at a very low rate, 58.8 percent.

Oregon officials say they are particularly proud of the improvement for students of color, who have for years experienced an achievement gap with their white peers.

"We are encouraged by the work underway to make our schools welcoming and effective for all students, which has contributed to better performance for those who have been historically underserved," said Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill — the leader of the state education department — in a statement with the release of the data. "However, there is much more to be done to make sure all students have the tools and support necessary to reach graduation."

Hispanic and Latino students, for example, experienced a 7 percentage point jump in the last three years. Their graduation rate now stands at 72.5 percent, nearly on par with their white peers.

Black and Native American student groups continued to struggle on the whole. Graduation rates for those groups were the lowest at 67.6 percent and 59.1 percent, respectively. Asian students were the ethnicity with the highest graduation rate, at 88.9 percent. White students (66.5 percent of potential graduates) graduated at a 78 percent rate.

But the newest data set that the state is now tracking seems to be the most indicative of trouble at school. Out of the nearly 4,000 high school seniors considered homeless, only half graduated on time.

On the bright side, there continues to be a correlation with graduating after career-technical education (CTE) classes. Even students with small amounts of these hands-on programs, such as woodshop and mechanics, seem to succeed. A student with just half a credit of CTE graduates at a rate of 86.3 percent; those who concentrate on CTE, with a full credit or more, graduated at a 91.7 percent rate.

"Hands-on learning awakens students to the power of their own potential, and connects classroom with career," said Governor Kate Brown in a statement. "That kind of engagement helps students cross the stage at graduation and equips them for next steps, whether that's college or a job. I am dedicated to ensuring that students, communities and districts have what they need for all students to graduate with a plan for their future."

Brown was criticized last year for not fully funding the requirement of Measure 98, which voters passed in 2016 to create an earmark for high school graduation boosters, like CTE programs. The budget passed by the legislature only funded half of the cost, according to Measure 98 proponents Stand for Children.

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