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Administrators are hoping a new funding strategy will help continue the trend.

FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The Class of 2017 at Forest Grove High School listens to speakers at its graduation ceremony.Oregon's four-year high school graduation rates, released Thursday, Jan. 25, show continued modest improvement.

Banks, Gaston and Forest Grove school districts followed suit.

Administrators at the three districts are hoping funds from Measure 98 — which provides more college and career readiness opportunities, along with dropout prevention — will continue to send the graduation rates in an upward direction.

FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Graduates turn their tassels over at Forest Grove High School's 2017 graduation ceremony.

Forest Grove

At about 80 percent, Forest Grove's graduation rate is the highest it's been in four years.

"The increase in the graduation rate is a collective effort of teachers, counselors and administrators at the high school," said FGHS Principal Karen O'Neill. "Staff work hard to provide interventions in a timely manner to support students to stay on track, or to get back on track, in order to graduate."

In addition, the school's ninth-grade professional learning community team put in place three years ago supports freshman in their first year of high school, O'Neill said, which puts them on track to graduate four years later.

Interim Superintendent John O'Neill credits the gains partially to a scheduling revamp that allows students the chance to earn more credits each semester, making it easier to accumulate the required credits for graduation.

John O'Neill expects Measure 98 funding to help continue the upward graduation-rate trend with the recent addition of a graduation specialist, new career and technical education (CTE) options and other supports.

Forest Grove's graduation rate for Hispanic students — which make up roughly 50 percent of students — rate fell from about 82 percent to about 74 percent.

FILE - In a 2016 photo, Banks High School graduates throw their caps into the air.

Banks

In typical Banks High School fashion, the small school led western Washington County districts with a graduation rate of nearly 91 percent for the 2016-17 school year, about the same as last year.

That means about seven Banks students didn't graduate.

"It's a great accomplishment for the district," said Banks School District Superintendent Jeff Leo. "Still, that means some students are dropping out and not finishing."

Sometimes, that's because students transfer out of the district and don't register at another school, Leo said, but there are a variety of factors.

In addition, some students take advantage of staying an extra few months to a year at the high school and earning their diploma that way, which doesn't show up in four-year data.

"High school isn't for everyone," Leo said. "Sometimes it takes another year and that's fine."

With Measure 98 funds, Leo said they've been able to add media arts, film editing and graphic design programs, which students have found engaging.

"We're hoping to continue expanding," he said. "Our students are loving it."

FILE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Jasmine Camacho receives her diploma from Clinton Nelson at Gaston Junior/Senior High School's graduation ceremony in 2016.

Gaston

For the second year in a row, Gaston's graduation rate has risen into the mid-80s, a large improvement from the previous two years.

In 2016-17, about 85 percent of students graduated, only a slight decrease from 86 percent the year before. That's way up from the 67 percent graduation rate in 2014-15 school year and about 72 percent a year before that.

"We're happy with the rate, but we're never completely satisfied," said Gaston School District Superintendent Susan McKenzie.

In such a small district, one or two students can make a big difference, McKenzie said.

Like most other school districts, students who drop out often struggle with family unrest, homelessness or simply getting behind in school early on.

Often, Gaston Junior/Senior High School also welcomes students who are already behind when they arrive from other districts through open enrollment, McKenzie said.

She's hoping the implementation of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which trains educators to prepare traditionally underrepresented students for higher education, will help to continue increasing the graduation rates.

In addition, the district hired a graduation coach with Measure 98 funds last September, McKenzie said.

"We're already seeing the results," she added.

FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Graduates of Gaston Junior/Senior High School throw their caps into the air in 2017.

Across Oregon

Statewide, 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 students graduating after taking 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 Gov. 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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