Local high school grad rates improve
Shasta Kearns Moore and Holly Scholz, Pamplin Media Group
Crook County's four-year high school graduation rates, released Thursday, mirror those of the state average, showing continued modest improvement.
The number of high school students in Crook County who graduated on time from alternative and traditional schools in 2016-17 reached 72.13 percent, a more than 4-point gain from last year's figure, Oregon Department of Education reported. Statewide, 76.7 percent, a nearly 2-point gain from last year's figure, graduated on time.
But at Crook County High School, 90 percent of students graduated, the second-highest high school rate in the region, and a half percentage point higher than the previous year.
"We are extremely proud that Crook County High School has landed near the top of all high schools in the Central Oregon region," said CCSD Curriculum and Special Programs Director Stacy Smith.
Only Summit High School in Bend was higher, with 90.71 percent graduating on time.
"We applaud the hard work that our students and families, along with the Crook County High School staff, undertake in order to get these students the skills they need to graduate," Smith said.
He noted that this year's graduation rate for both CCHS and for the district as a whole are the highest numbers in many years, at least spanning back to before the use of Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced testing.
Crook County School District as a district ranks fourth out of the six regional districts. Sisters ranks first, followed by Culver, Redmond, Bend-La Pine, CCSD and then Jefferson County. Smith said this is a little misleading since all six districts are within a few percentage points of each other. Both Sisters and Redmond actually decreased in their graduation percentages this year. Bend was relatively flat, and CCSD, Culver and Jefferson County improved.
The state 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.
Even with the modified diplomas added, however, students with disabilities continued to graduate at a very low rate, 58.8 percent statewide and 54.55 percent in Crook County.
"The trouble with student groups is that most have an extremely small amount of students and fluctuations in improvement and decreases are rampant," Smith pointed out.
Of those student groups that are large enough to draw conclusions, Crook County female students stood out with a nearly 20 percentage point increase in graduation, Smith said.
"Two other groups that have shown increases are local English Language Learners and Former English Language Learners, which means that recent investments in resources for those students have begun to pay dividends," he said.
CCSD is also working hard to improve the graduation rate of the community students from vulnerable student populations that attend Rimrock Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, and Pioneer Alternative School.
"Although our graduation rate has increased each of the last four years, we still have work to do," Smith said. "I'm excited to see how the board's investment in math improvement will increase student performance across the spectrum, including graduation rates. To this point, we are very pleased with the work going on in our schools right now."
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 statewide in the last three years. Their graduation rate now stands at 72.5 percent, nearly on par with their white peers. However, locally, 65.71 percent graduated, a decrease from 70 percent from the previous year.
"We had a small 4 percentage point decrease in the performance of our Hispanic students, overall," Smith pointed out. "Not necessarily cause for alarm, but we will keep an eye on this data."
Statewide, 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 in Oregon.
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 statewide and 90.66 percent locally; those who concentrate on CTE, with a full credit or more, graduated at a 91.7 percent rate in the state and 96.12 percent in Crook County.
"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."
"Like educational leaders across the state, the administration team at Crook County School District is looking at this data and comparing it to previous year's data to look for areas of improvement as we strive toward our goal of 100 percent of our senior students graduating high school, college and career ready," Smith said.