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Oregon had third-worst graduation rates in the country at 75 percent in 2016, according to national numbers.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Portland high schools had better graduation rates last year, according to a new state review.Students in Portland Public Schools graduated at slightly higher rates in 2018 than a year earlier and the district managed a solid gain in the number of African-American students graduating in four years, statistics released Thursday, Jan. 24, by the Oregon Department of Education reveal.

"I'm pleased," said Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Guerrero, who has led the state's largest school district for 15 months, added, "The concerted work by staff … is beginning to show traction with underserved students."

Portland students graduated at a rate of 79.6 percent in 2018, up from the 77.9 percent a year earlier. That's slightly better than the 78.7 percent of students that graduated in four years across Oregon.

"This is the ninth year Portland Public Schools has shown gains and the third we've outperformed the state," Guerrero said.

In East Portland, students in both the David Douglas School District and Parkrose School District graduated at higher rates than in 2017 but were short of hitting the state graduation levels.

PMG ILLUSTRATIONDavid Douglas students graduated at a 75.6 rate and Parkrose at 78.6 percent.

Preventing drop-outs is important for the students, but also for communities. Several studies have shown that students who don't graduate from high school are more likely to be arrested, be unemployed, live in poverty, suffer health problems and have children who will also be poor.

Nationally, Oregon's showing is bleak. Oregon had the third worst graduation rates in the country at 75 percent in 2016, the most recent comparable statistics available from the National Center for Education Statistics. Only New Mexico and Nevada had lower rates.

On the right track?

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has made improving education and boosting graduation rates a major focus during her final four-year term in office.

There has been a chronic gap in achievement among various underserved groups in Portland Public Schools. That was a focus of a critical report the Oregon Secretary of State's office issued about the Oregon Department of Education and Portland Public Schools.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Portland's graduation rate was better last year than the statewide average, according to a state review.According to the report, "PPS has a 53 percent achievement gap between white and African American students. This gap is substantially worse than the state average. Similarly concerning gaps exist for students who are Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or economically disadvantaged."

About seven in 10 Black/African-American students graduated from Portland schools, or 70.6 percent in 2018, up from the 64.6 percent who graduated in four years in 2017.

Of the gains by African-American students, Guerrero said "we're very pleased in that regard. It's certainly one of the student subgroups that we are mindful of."

He pointed out that black students posted big graduation gains at several of the district's large high schools including Jefferson, Grant and Cleveland.

Among the small group of American Indian/Native American students, fewer than half graduated in four years at PPS in 2018, only 40.6 percent, down from 53.8 percent in the year earlier.

"We can do a lot better for Native American students," Guerrero said. District educators "are going to want to dive in a little deeper" with Native American families, students and culturally specific organizations to improve outcomes for these students, he said.

Among the bright spots are students who take career and technical education classes. Young people who concentrated in these fields graduated at a 95.3 percent rate in PPS, and those who took some classes in the area graduated at a 90.9 percent rate.

Of Portland's big comprehensive high schools, 94.3 percent of Lincoln High School students graduated in four years, the highest level in the district. Roosevelt continued to have the worst performance with only 70.2 percent of students graduating in four years in 2018.

Guerrero said the district was focused on a program called Freshman Success, improving attendance and engaging more students with CTE courses to improve graduation rates. CTE courses drew in 1,000 more students this year than the prior year, he said.

"This is a good news day. This is early evidence we're on the right track," he added.

Parkrose School District

Parkrose improved three points over last year's rate, going from 75.5 percent to 78.6 percent.

Parkrose Superintendent Michael Lopes Serrao attributed the gain to "focused work by staff and administration on instructional strategies and working collaboratively in teams."

"The high school has specifically focused on being more culturally responsive," he said.

Serrao said that despite the gains, "we still have plenty of work to do to better support our students, but the wonderful staff and students deserve the credit."

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