Hard work pays off as more local high schoolers graduate
Most high schools in Portland mirrored a statewide trend in slow, steady improvements to their graduation rates.
Data released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education show four-year graduation rates during the 2015-16 school year increased by 1 percentage point to 74.8 percent.
Students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency still lagged far behind at 55.5 percent and 52.9 percent, respectively.
This year, ODE added data for students who take courses in career-technical education, such as machinery and computers. Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 98 in November, which carved out money from the state budget to boost graduation rates through programs like Career and Technical Eductaion (CTE).
Statewide, 90.7 percent of students who concentrated in CTE graduated as well as 85 percent who just participated in a CTE course.
Portland Public Schools, which serves most of the city, did slightly better with a 91.1 percent graduation rate among CTE concentrators.
Overall, PPS' graduation rate was 1.8 percentage points higher than in 2014-15, reaching 75.5 percent.
This marks seven years of steady improvements since its 2008-09 rate of 53 percent and the first time it has surpassed the statewide average in many years.
"We're pleased with the progress we're making and know that there's still work to be done," said Interim Superintendent Bob McKean in a statement that also thanked staff and students, adding: "We hope the state will continue to make the kind of investments we need to accelerate our progress."
Lincoln High School graduated the most of its students at 93.7 percent. The Metropolitan Learning Center, a unique K-12 program in downtown Portland, was the next highest with 91.4 percent graduating, a remarkable 19.6 percentage point increase from the year before. MLC had a comparatively tiny class, though, at 31 total graduates.
Alliance High School, a program for students who the district has identified as needing alternative strategies to get to graduation, graduated 23.3 percent of its students on time. However, 41.5 percent did complete a diploma, or equivalent, in five years.
North Portland's Roosevelt High School was the lowest of the nine standard high schools in the district at 64.7 percent for its four-year graduation rate, though that did represent a 3 percentage point increase from the year prior and more than 10 points from 2014.
District stands out
Parkrose School District in Northeast Portland was highlighted by the state as a district that has made significant gains. While the district's four-year graduation rate is 75 percent, its five-year cohort completer rate is 87 percent. That means that while three-quarters of the Class of 2016 graduated high school in four years, about 50 more youth also graduated last year. These students either made up missed credits, passed the general equivalency diploma test or earned other standard diploma alternatives.
"I am super excited about our nice upward trends," wrote Parkrose Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray in an email to the Tribune. Gray highlighted the gains made in the district among racial minorities, including an improvement of 4 percentage points for black students and 8 percentage points for Hispanic students. This is part of an eight-year trend in which racial minorities have made double-digit increases in the historically disadvantaged district.
Parkrose High School Principal Molly Ouche credits the gains to the AVID program, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. The program explicitly teaches students study skills and builds connections to students' teachers and peers.
"Implementing AVID in the school has made a big impact," Ouche said. "Furthermore, many of the practices used in AVID are used schoolwide. For example, all sophomores attend a career fair and all juniors will be attending a college expo."
Work pays off
In David Douglas High School, 77.2 percent of students graduated on time, a 1.8 percentage point increase.
Though the district only has one high school, the district's graduation rate as a whole was 75.7 percent. That's because that rate includes students who are educated in nontraditional settings, such as Multnomah Education Service District schools.
Superintendent Ken Richardson credits teachers and staff — at all levels of the district — for focusing on student success.
"This increase is a direct reflection of their hard work," Richardson said in a statement for the Tribune. "The students have also worked very hard and deserve credit for this increase."
The new superintendent added a caveat: "At the same time, I know our high school staff isn't satisfied. They've set a goal to raise our graduation rates above the national average, and I have confidence they'll get there."
Oregon is known for having some of the worst graduation rates in the nation. The last reported statistics, from the 2014-15 school year, showed a fifth year of record-breaking rates at 83 percent.