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Oregon City figures down, but officials hope state funds will help reverse slide

Gladstone and North Clackamas students graduated at higher rates in 2019 than a year earlier, meanwhile dropping in the Oregon City School District, according to statistics released Jan. 23 by the Oregon Department of Education.

Last spring about 83.9% of Oregon City students graduated in four years, compared to the 84.5% of students who graduated on time in the district in 2018. North Clackamas students graduated at a rate of 87.18% in 2019, up nearly 2 percentage points from 85.45% a year earlier. Gladstone's class of 2019 had a district graduation rate of over 89%, up nearly 3 percentage points from the previous year.

It's unclear why Oregon City was especially challenged lately when compared to other school districts on the urban east side of Clackamas County. A record-high statewide average saw an increase of 1.3 percentage points in graduation rates last year.

OCSD's graduation rate went down for students with disabilities, from 70.4% to 67.5% for the district overall, from 84.2% to 75.7% at OCHS specifically, during the past two years. Oregon City's graduation rate declined as well for students who were former English learners, although the district made graduation-rate gains for students identified as economically disadvantaged, homeless or in underserved races/ethnicities. 

OCHS, the district's largest high school, has a new principal this school year, Carey Wilhelm, who has said that improving graduation rates is one of her top priorities. Last year, the overall graduation rate at OCHS dropped by more than 2 percentage points, from 93% to 90.6%.

In response to the drop in graduation rates, Oregon City Assistant Superintendent Kyle Laier said the district was "encouraged by the opportunities ahead as the state moves closer to fully funding schools." With an infusion of about $1 billion in funds statewide later this year via the state's new Student Success Act, districts in Oregon hope to offer students more opportunities and support.

Previous underfunding of schools statewide led Oregon legislators and voters to provide new dollars for education in the upcoming school year. Oregon City school officials said they will use funds from Measure 98 to improve graduation rates for all students.

"These additional funds have allowed us to develop a freshman success system at OCHS that monitors student progress and responds to student needs to ensure all freshmen are on track to graduate going into their sophomore year," Laier said. "We also funded a College and Career Center to support students and keep them on track to graduate while helping them develop postsecondary education and career goals."

North Clackamas

With an increase of 21 percentage points compared to the North Clackamas graduation rate in 2011, NCSD's graduation rate is also 7 percentage points higher than Oregon's average. Officials say that NCSD's emphasis on equity, whole student education, robust academics, extensive career-technical options and community support contributed to this achievement.

Remarkably, all 25 of the black/African American students in NCSD's 2019 cohort graduated for a 100% graduation rate for this district subgroup. District officials gave credit for this achievement in part to key African American community leaders, including state Rep. Janelle Bynum and Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson, both of Happy Valley.

Additionally, multiracial students in the 2019 cohort graduated 95% of the time (up 16 percentage points from 2018) American Indian/Alaska Native students: 86% (up 13), economically disadvantaged students 83% (up 5), and English learners 80% (up 6).

"I am tremendously proud of the hard work done by our students, staff, families and the community," said NCSD Superintendent Matt Utterback. "Our work is ongoing, but these statistics demonstrate NCSD is on the right track to prepare all graduates to successfully enter a rapidly changing and globalizing society."

While North Clackamas 2018–19 graduation rate gains were realized by a variety of student demographic groups, district officials acknowledged that additional progress needs to be made to achieve NCSD's goal of all students realizing academic success without regard to demographics. In a testament to the ongoing work for the district, underserved races and ethnicities in NCSD experienced a drop in graduation rates for the second year, slipping to 79.2% in 2019 from an all-time high of 83.7% in 2017.

NCSD spokesman Jonathan Hutchison said the district will use the graduation data to help teachers and administrators understand where there are gaps and to encourage culturally relevant teaching strategies.

NCSD's Hispanic/Latino grad rate dropped to 77.2% last year from 78.7% in 2018. Although this percentage went down, overall numbers of Hispanic/Latino students graduating in NCSD are up. Last year's 241 Hispanic/Latino students in the 2019 cohort represented NCSD's largest class in three years for that demographic, which saw particularly large population increases at Clackamas High School.

According to Hutchison, district leaders will be renewing efforts to focus on relationship-based strategies with traditionally underserved communities and encouraging student voices on what they need to be successful, including student affinity groups. Milwaukie and Rex Putnam high schools lost leaders for Hispanic/Latino student groups during recent staffing changes.

"We recognize more work needs to be done, and NCSD is doing some small and intensive caseload work at two of our high schools (MHS/RPHS) that have had administration changes over the past one to two years in order to build stronger relationships with Latinx students," Hutchison said. "With new staff in place, some efforts, which we know make a difference, are being revitalized as the new administrators have onboarded and moved through the learning curve."

Gladstone

Gladstone School District's four-year graduation rate is 89.57%, a historic high. The district rate is more than 11 percentage points higher than five years ago, and 9.56 percentage points above the state average. Gladstone High School's graduation rate was 91.25%, among the best in Oregon.

"Over the past three years, new support programs and high-interest electives helped propel our graduation rate," said GHS principal Kevin Taylor. "Our students, teachers, staff, parents and community working together have made a real and significant difference in student success. As a small school with big opportunities, we are immensely proud of our students' accomplishments, well above the state average."

COURTESY PHOTO - Gladstone High School's Class of 2019 had a four-year graduation rate of 91.25%, one of the best in the state.Gladstone's graduation rate for Hispanic/Latino students dropping from 90.9% in 2018 to 84.6% last year seems to be a weakness in the latest numbers, but district officials encourage people to look at improvement trends over a longer period, especially for a small district.

Gladstone's multiracial cohort from last year also dropped compared to the previous year, from 87.5% to 81.25%, economically disadvantaged students dropped from 88.4% to 82.3% and students with disabilities dropped from 83.3% to 77.8%.

"Gladstone is continually working to improve graduation rates," Taylor said. "We are expanding credit recovery and online credit options, figuring out what will work best to help each student earn a diploma."

Compared to the state averages in these areas, district officials point out, Gladstone's graduation rates for all demographic types are strong. Gladstone's Hispanic/Latino students graduate at 8.42 percentage points above the state average, students with disabilities at 14.41 above, and economically disadvantaged students at 7.85 above.

Gladstone district officials say it's important to remember that each graduation statistic is more than a number, and percentages for demographic groups can shift dramatically from year to year depending on two or three individuals, because each person represents a larger proportion of the total in smaller districts. Over time, Gladstone has made strides in graduating various demographic groups.

When comparing 2019 on-time graduation rates to 2014, Gladstone students with disabilities improved by 7.85 percentage points, 12.62 for Hispanic/Latino students and 18.77 for economically disadvantaged students.

"This is a proud day for Gladstone, with a record high graduation rate," said Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart. "While we won't be satisfied until every student has a diploma, we're excited to see the impact of our new support programs and our work on culturally responsive teaching."


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