Poor attendance tied to Portland students' low scores on tests
In Portland as with anywhere, some of the worst attendance records also are at the poorest performing schools.
Jefferson High School, for example, has been lauded for dramatic improvements in its graduation rate — 83.7 percent in 2015-16 compared to 66.4 percent in 2013-14 — but students there still struggle to meet state standards. Just over half of 11th-graders met the expectations for science but only 5 percent met the math standards — the worst of any school in the city.
That's according to data released Thursday from the Oregon Department of Education. The school report card data collects information on dozens of different categories to give the public a sense of how schools are performing and what challenges they face.
Jefferson also performs far below what is expected in English language arts with just 24.7 percent meeting standards on the state test. Twelve percent of the students are English language learners.
The trouble could be rooted in how much school they miss.
Nearly 30 percent of Jeff High Democrats skip more than 10 percent of their classes.
Roosevelt Roughriders have a worse attendance record, though. There, only 58.1 percent of students attend 90 percent of their classes.
Parkrose High School in Northeast Portland has a 68.4 percent rate of regular attendance and performed poorly on math and science tests. (The high school did, however, have surprisingly high English scores — 71.3 percent met the standards.)
State researchers know that chronic absenteeism is a problem. In May 2016, they released a report highlighting some of the causes and solutions for it in Oregon.
A key finding was that children want a deep and positive relationship with their teachers. This, researchers said after talking to 44 focus groups, largely means making school more interesting and relevant to students' lives and backgrounds.
As for the causes, those can range from simply being bored with the material to serious threats to personal safety or the need to stay home to take care of family.
Schools serving families with more financial resources tend to fare better on many metrics, as one might expect, including attendance.
Forest Park and Richmond elementary schools, in Northwest and Southeast Portland respectively, had near-perfect attendance records. In both schools, fewer than 10 percent of families qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.
But the Arthur Academy, a public charter school in the David Douglas School District, also had very high attendance rates despite 41 percent of students below that standard low-income line. (For this year, that means a family of four subsisting on a bit less than $45,000 per year.)
All three of these schools with full desks performed well above average on state exams.
The numbers beyond attendance also paint a chaotic picture about the lives of many of the students in lower-income areas. Some students may not even be enrolled in the same school from the beginning to the end of the year.
Nearly a third of children at Glenfair Elementary School in outer Northeast Portland's Reynolds district moved in or out of the school in the middle of the year. Portland Public Schools' James John Elementary School on North Charleston Avenue saw nearly a quarter of its students churn last year, too.
At Glenfair, just 16.7 percent of kids met the standards for English language arts and even fewer for math.
It's hardly a surprise, however, when one considers that 46 percent of the 568 students there don't speak English fluently. Instead, they speak at least one of 27 different languages, according to the state's survey.
Dig into the numbers yourself: Find a school in Portland ranked according to their attendance rate and their test scores on our spreadsheet.