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Graduation rates stay flat in Estacada

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The state says Estacada High School's graduation rate has stayed flat in comparison to last year. But local officials say the state used flawed numbers.

ESTACADA NEWS: JOSH KULA - Happy Estacada High School graduates celebrate their milestone. One in four dont make it to the diploma. Estacada High School's graduation rate was about the same for the class of 2016 as the prior year, but the school is mounting multiple efforts to increase the number of students earning diplomas.

"It is not just the graduation rate, we are working to make all kids successful," said Ryan Carpenter, the high school's principal.

About 73 percent of the class of 2016 earned a high school diploma in four years, compared with 74.74 percent the year earlier, Carpenter said.

Statistics recently released by the Oregon Department of Education show a 69.93 percent graduation rate for the Estacada class of 2016, but the school district contends the state's number is incorrect. Carpenter said nine students who moved or had other changes in status were incorrectly included in the class of 2016 and should have been removed from the pool of potential graduates, which boosts the graduation rate.

As in Estacada, one in four Oregon high school students do not graduate in four years. Oregon has one of the worst graduation rates in the country. For the class of 2015, Oregon's rate was third worst in the nation, trailing only Nevada and New Mexico.

Oregon's graduation rate edged up to 74.83 percent for the class of 2016, from 73.82 percent in the prior school year. Nationally the graduation rate is 83.2 percent.

Boosting high school graduation levels is a statewide priority.

"I remain committed to improving Oregon's graduation rates, and will prioritize investments in the upcoming legislative session that empower communities and educators to improve graduation rates," Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement accompanying the ODE statistics.

Increasing attendance

Carpenter said the school added a dean of students whose main job is to boost attendance. "He's really working with families on attendance," Carpenter said, and helps resolve issues that might be keeping kids out of school. The school also created a care team of counselors and other staff that works with families on problems that end up in absences. The attendance initiative "has gone very well," Carpenter said.

Another major push at Estacada High School is to make students feel more engaged and connected to the school. Carpenter said EHS is in the second year of a program called "Student Voice," which aims to create more of a partnership with students.

"Student Voice" asks students to give feedback about what they want to see offered at the high school and this helps increase the students' sense of self worth and connection to the school community.

The high school teachers also are working together in groups in "a concerted, focused effort on analyzing our teaching," Carpenter said. The teachers together have been examining lesson plans, the results of tests after each lesson unit and creating timelines on what should be taught and when, Carpenter said. This helps them decide if they can speed up a unit of study or need to slow it down because too many students struggled with it.

The school is also looking at ways to carve out more time from the school day to help students who are having trouble with certain concepts or lesson units.

Career education rocks!

One of the groups of students with the highest graduation rates may surprise some. Of course, the honor society crowd is at the top of the likely-to-graduate list, but students who take even one career or technical education (CTE) class graduate at rates much higher than average.

The Oregon Department of Education reported that students who had taken one or more CTE class had an 85.4 percent graduation rate, compared with a 74.8 percent rate for the state as a whole.

Career students may have an occupation goal in mind, such as machinist or a health care technician and are motivated to excel, graduate and get going on their professions.

Estacada High increased it's CTE offerings. For years, it offered automotive technology, business and manufacturing and recently added culinary arts, engineering and journalism. "One of the things we can do to increase the graduation rate is enhance the number of options and give students more choice in what truly engages them," Carpenter said.

Carpenter acknowledged that the effort to shepherd students through to graduation starts in kindergarten, but the four years of high school are also key.

"We are making a systemic change," he said, to make sure all Estacada students get a high school diploma.