Improvement in graduation rates good news, but we still have a ways to go
Oregons graduation rate is making headlines again, and this time the news is better: More students are graduating from high school. But with an increase of just two-percentage-points to 74 percent, the state still has a long way to go to reach its goal of 100 percent graduation by 2025.
Chalkboard Project recently released a paper, Sealing the Cracks, outlining steps states can take to improve graduation rates. States with high graduation rates have three things in common: They prioritize high school graduation, support the use of data to identify at-risk students, and emphasize data quality.
State leaders have recently stepped up efforts to improve our graduation rate. For example, the Oregon Department of Education is reaching out to school districts to improve data quality and provide training to ensure quality reporting. The governor announced the creation of a new position, a chief innovation officer, whose primary responsibility will be to work with districts to improve their completion rates.
While these are promising steps, we urge our state leaders to consider additional strategies to help schools and districts reach at-risk students.
Establish an urgent statewide goal. Set a stretched, but reachable goal to increase our four-year graduation rate to 85 percent within five years. Develop annual statewide targets: Each percentage increase represents at least 450 more students who graduate.
Develop a statewide real time early warning system. Provide regular, ongoing feedback for all high school students, preferably in eighth grade or early in their freshman year. Key markers include chronic absenteeism, behavioral referrals, academic progress and individual student growth.
Learn from external success. Study and visit other states that are making substantial progress in high school completion. How are they addressing accountability, data structures, and supports for schools and districts?
Learn from internal success. Publicize lessons learned. Which Oregon schools and districts are successfully graduating more students? Which have shown the greatest improvement in the past five years? What can we learn from them?
Advocate for students at risk. Establish a threshold for comprehensive high schools and alternative settings. Which comprehensive high schools lose an egregious number of students each year? Which alternative structures, including online schools, appear to be gaining students and financial benefit with little success to show?
Celebrate breakthroughs. Identify and highlight successful schools and teams. Ask foundations and businesses to commit substantial resources in prizes and awards for students and staff who demonstrate sustained turnarounds. What if students in vastly improving high schools received awards?
The good news is many districts are successfully increasing their graduation rate well above the state average. Districts participating in the School District Collaboration Fund, for example, are outpacing the rest of the state by five percentage points. They are creating a culture of shared leadership and accountability, breaking down barriers, developing early warning systems, and making high school completion a priority.
We are confident the state can learn from them and others as it sets forth a strategy to help every district achieve the possible to see every Oregon student graduate from high school.
Sue Hildick is president of Chalkboard Project