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Barlow High sees biggest gain at 87.5 percent, Reynolds High performs below state average.

FILE PHOTO - Reynolds graduates form part of a choir performing at the school graduation.Graduation rates improved at all the big high schools in East Multnomah County last year, mirroring the improving trend in the state overall, show statistics released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education.

All area schools, except Reynolds High School, continued to turn in graduation results better than the state average of 76.6 percent for 2017.

Barlow had the biggest gain in graduation rates, up to 87.5 percent in 2017 from the 79.8 percent the year earlier.

Centennial High graduated 84.3 of its students, an improvement from 82.9 percent in 2016. Centennial's goal is to have 95 percent get a sheepskin in four years (see accompanying story).

Gresham High graduated 80 percent of students in four years in 2017, up from 78.4 percent the prior year.

Springwater Trail graduated 90.7 percent of the senior cohort, up from 87.5 percent in 2016.

Tiny Corbett High School was again the area's top performer with 92.9 percent of its students getting a diploma in 2017 in four years, although that was down from the 94.7 percent in 2016.

Reynolds High School had 69.3 percent of its students graduate in four years, up from 67.2 percent in 2016. Reynolds High has a high percentage of poor students and students who do not speak English. About 55 percent of Reynolds High students are considered economically disadvantaged. There are 45 languages spoken at Reynolds High, and 52 percent of students don't speak English as their first language.

Statewide, Oregon's 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 76.6 percent, a nearly 2-point gain from last year's 74.8 percent. These statistics measure the graduation rates for students who started as freshmen in 2013-14.

Oregon's graduation 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. Those are special diplomas are issued to students with learning barriers or medical problems.

Even with the modified diplomas added, however, students with disabilities continued to graduate at the less-than-impressive rate of 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. "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.

Girls are graduating at higher rates than boys, with 79.9 percent of female students getting a diploma in 2017, compared to 73.6 percent for boys. But the newest data set the state is now tracking seems to be the most indicative of trouble. 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 wood shop 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 91.7 percent.

"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 (their) 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.

Shasta Kearns Moore contributed to this story.

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