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Data shows schools return to pre-pandemic numbers in some categories, continue to fall behind in others

PMH PHOTO: KIVA HANSON - Madras High Graduation 2022

In Jefferson County, schools look to be returning to pre-pandemic norms. Despite significantly lower attendance and low state test scores last year, schools seem hopeful that students have begun to bounce back from pandemic dips.

"We've got a lot of things where we feel like we've got some hopeful numbers, indicators that 'Hey, we're starting to move back in the right direction again.'" Said Jay Mathisen, superintendent of the Jefferson County 509-J School District. "I am confident that will continue next year and the two or three going forward based on the work we see our teachers and school leaders doing. As long as we can keep kiddos in school our practices continue to be sharp and best. I've got some confidence that we'll continue to see some growth in lots of areas."

Students on track

New data released by the Oregon Department of Education provides a snapshot of how schools are doing, by comparing data from before, during and after distance learning. According to a new statewide report card, 83% of Oregon ninth graders were on track to graduate during the 2021-22 school year, similar to pre-pandemic levels. That figure had declined greatly the year prior, dipping to 74% when schools in many areas were closed half the year. The Jefferson County 509-J School District saw rates increase from pre-pandemic levels, despite a slight drop in 2021, when 75% of ninth graders were on-track. 2022 data shows that 82% of ninth graders are on-track to graduate, just below the state average of 83%.

In Culver School District numbers have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, 92% of ninth graders were on-track to graduate. That number dropped to 80% during the 2021 school year, and rose back to 93% in 2022.

While the statewide four-year (on-time) graduation rate dropped last year to 80.6%, it's still slightly higher than it was a few years prior in 2018, when it was just below 79%.

Culver SD students did not see the significant drop in graduation rates the rest of the state did during the pandemic, dropping only 3% from 2019 to 2022.

509-J's graduation rates have increased since pre-pandemic numbers, moving from 78% in 2019 to 85% in 2022.

Statewide fourth grade math and reading levels dropped below the national average last year, as national average test scores also declined from pre-pandemic years.

"I know our younger students coming in were much more affected by the community being shut down," said Culver SD superintendent Stefanie Garber. "Our kindergarteners this year are incredibly behind." There is hope looking forward however, according to Garber, "We've started looking at other measures to see success as well and we are seeing great growth. We've seen so many kids catch up in reading through interventions."

Chronic absence

The new data report also highlights another alarming fact: Students missed a substantial amount of school last year, even though Oregon schools were open full-time for in-person learning.

Last year, 36% of Oregon students were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10% or more of their regular school days. A whopping 52.5% of high school seniors were considered chronically absent. That's a sharp increase from 2018-19, when the overall absenteeism rate was 20% and 39% for high school seniors. Local superintendents say the pandemic played a large part in this dip, due to quarantine and contact-tracing guidelines and caused many students to miss more school that they otherwise would.

In Jefferson County, schools saw an even more drastic drop in attendance than the rest of the state. However, Mathisen says that's to be expected due to the pandemic. "We had many students who missed way more days than they otherwise would last year due to illness or quarantine," said Mathisen. "Students were missing a week of more of school for a positive case or just from being in close contact. "It shouldn't surprise us a bit that when we see those kinds of absences away from the classroom, that students have a harder time mastering the content."

Making progress

While the latest data snapshot underscores the pandemic's impact on schools across the state, education leaders say they're better positioned to help students recover from social, emotional and academic impacts of distance learning.

"Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the students, families and educators of Oregon, the 2021-22 school year was one of reconnection and growth," said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education.

"Together, we lifted up lessons learned. We prioritized mental health and well-being as well as learning and academic growth for all of Oregon's children and youth. The last two years have shown us what we're capable of. It is a strong reminder of the spirit of engagement and partnership and working toward a shared goal."

Oregon schools also are on a path toward diversifying teaching and leadership staff, while accounting for all students in demographic metrics.

According to ODE, reporting of nonbinary students increased for a third year in a row, as represented in fall enrollment data. The latest report also marks the first time the state has tracked the academic outcomes, attendance and likelihood of graduation for students in foster care.

Educator pay, experience shrinking

The state report card released Nov. 17 doesn't just highlight student achievement and demographics. It also shines a light on staffing.

The number of women serving as superintendents rose from 30% in 2017-18 to 36% last year.

While Oregon celebrated having more women in top leadership positions, the state is still actively trying to diversify its teaching staff to better reflect the student population.

While 40.3% of Oregon's students are people of color, only 12.2% of teachers are people of color, according to the latest data. Building on existing diversity initiatives, Oregon passed Senate Bill 182 in 2017, creating the Educator Advancement Council to help districts put "high-quality, well-supported and culturally responsive" educators in classrooms.

In terms of pay, average teacher salaries jumped from $52,333 in 2007 to $70,402 in 2021. The average superintendent salary saw a sharper jump, going from $108,604 in 2007 to about $152,600 in 2021. When adjusted for inflation, teachers, principals and assistant principals bring home less money today than they did in 2007, while superintendents make just slightly more than they did 14 years ago. 509-J said that their salaries are the most competitive among regional schools, their salaries also reflect this trend.

The report notes that nearly 22% of Oregon's licensed teachers have 20 or more years of experience under their belt, but the number of new teachers with zero to four years of experience "increased significantly" from 24% in 2020-21 to 27% in 2021-22.

At 509-J, newer teachers have also been added to the staff. In 2019, there were 167 teachers, 25% of which had less than four years of experience. In 2022, 509-J employed 188 teachers, and 35% had less than four years of experience.

In Culver, a significant increase in new teachers also took place. In 2019, there were 39 teachers with 27% having less than four years of experience. In 2022, Culver SD employed 45 teachers, with 36% having less than four years of experience.

"The good news is that kids are really resilient and learn really quickly," said Garber. "We've been able to provide interventions to students that need is, and I'm really hopeful that we'll continue to bounce back."

The full report card, along with prior year reports, is available at Oregon.gov/ode


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