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While the overall rate mirrors the previous year's, rates are down for key student subgroups

Molalla's graduation rate remains steady compared to the previous year, but with Oregon's rate climbing, Molalla's rate now hovers barely above the state's, according to data released by the Oregon Department of Education this month.

Unfortunately, Molalla's graduation rates have dropped in several key student subgroups including underserved races, students with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged.

The district not only has plans to improve those rates, but plans are currently in full swing—perhaps the most significant effort being the addition of credit-recovery courses at the high school to help students who fail classes recoup credits and stay on track.

Molalla's overall graduation rate for the 2017-18 academic year is at 79.5 percent, almost identical to the previous year's 79.6 percent. The statewide rate is up to 78.7 percent, the highest ever.

These graduation rates refer to the percent of students in a cohort who graduated with a standard Oregon or modified diploma within four years.

Molalla High School Principal Brad Berzinski pointed out that of the 23 Molalla students who did not graduate on time in 2018, 11 of those are continuing into a fifth year of high school and may attain that coveted high school diploma after all.

Still, Berzinski was not immediately pleased with the data.

"Number one, I want to say I'm disappointed in where we're at because I know we're capable of much, much more than where we are today," Berzinski said. "But, with that said, the first step is you take stock of where you're at today and say, 'Where do we go?' Right? Where do we grow from here?"

When it comes to underserved races and ethnicities, Molalla's graduation rate dropped drastically to 56.5 from 75 the year before, the lowest in at least five years. This rate is significantly lower than area schools' and 17 percentage points lower than the statewide rate.

The graduation rate for students with disabilities also dropped drastically to 56.5 percent, from 71.9 the previous year, again the lowest in at least five years. The statewide graduation rate among students with disabilities rose to 60.6 percent.

Likewise, Molalla's graduation rate among the economically disadvantaged dropped to 68.5 percent, down only slightly from the previous year's 71.8 percent and not far below Oregon's 72.4 percent.

PAMPLIN FILE PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Pictured are some of Molalla's 2018 grads.

So who is doing well when it comes to graduating on time in Molalla? Females continue to graduate at a much higher rate than their male peers, with 87.1 percent graduating on time compared to 71.7 percent of males. Other groups with high rates are those who are not economically disadvantaged and former English learners (those who exited the English learning program before high school).

Of course, the focus of school leaders is on helping all of Molalla's students graduate on time. To achieve that target, Berzinski identified two main factors hindering on-time graduation: poor attendance and struggles in mathematics.

Already, the district has placed some individuals and programs in place to help students overcome those barriers. After expressing his initial disappointment in the numbers, Berzinski noted he also realizes how far the school has come in a short time.

"I'm also very proud of the work that we're doing in the sense that this data is now eight months old," Berzinski said. "I mean, these students walked across the stage eight months ago. So, the steps that we've taken even in that eight-month time, I'm very proud of."

Using Measure 98 dollars, Molalla created two key positions at the high school. One is a student success coach filled by Tim Baker, who among other things, keeps tabs on 9th-grade success or struggles and student attendance.

Another new position is that of mathematics interventionist. Dr. Lori Vandine is taking on that role, in which she serves students directly and also coaches math teachers across grades K-12 on best math instructional practices.

"Yes, graduation rates are appropriately connected to a high school identity," said Superintendent Tony Mann, "and yet, it's a K-12 system—all cylinders firing in the same direction."

Vandine is the one heading up the new, credit-recovery courses. These are small classes, about 15 students, for those who have previously failed math or English language arts classes. Students study at their own pace with the help of Vandine and two peer tutors.

"Feedback from students was very positive. In fact, several of the students said, 'I wish we had this for every content area,' " Vandine said.

"And it helped us, since it was a smaller class setting…it helped us build a relationship which I can extend to them the rest of their time with us here in Molalla and make sure that they're supported and they feel supported," Vandine added. "Most of them come to me still, even though they're not in the class, for additional support—just on their own."

In addition to supports at the high school, some funding and efforts have gone to the middle school to help 8th-graders transition into high school with ease. This summer, the district will hold a two-week academy for certain 8th-grade students to learn how to succeed in high school.

To view Molalla's graduation data and statewide data, visit ODE's website.

Kristen Wohlers
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