Oregon's four-year high school graduation rates show slight increase in numbers

Oregon's four-year high school graduation rates, released Thursday, Jan. 25, showed that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District is well above average when it comes to graduating its students on time. The district is even higher than similar-size districts: Lake Oswego and Oregon City.

The graduation rate data showed that Oregon's four-year high schools had continued modest improvement. The number of high school students in the state who graduated on time reached 76.7, a nearly 2-point gain from last year's figure.

The WL-WV School District sits slightly more than 16 percentage points higher than Oregon's graduation rate average and has slowly risen — about 5 percentage points — since 2013-14.

"Our West Linn-Wilsonville District Goal No. 1 is to grow student achievement, generate equitable outcomes for all students, and eliminate opportunity and achievement gaps," WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said. "In that spirit, it truly is our goal to achieve a graduation rate of 100 percent, and ensure that our students are college and career ready when they leave our buildings."

Arts and Technology High School graduated 55.77 percent of students in 2016-17 — its largest class of graduates with 33 students — which was about four percentage points higher than in 2013-14. It's important to note, though, that the school's small size skews graduation rate numbers.

"Here at Art Tech we take students who may have struggled for various reasons and we take an individualized approach to help them strive for their own personal goals including college career and personal development — although some of our students might take a fifth year when they come to us behind in credits. We have success in helping them overcome challenges and work toward their goals," said Russ Romas, student support coordinator at Art Tech.

He said that as the staff gets better at understanding students on an individual level, they get better at helping them overcome challenges, and develop more opportunities for students.

"Better new solutions to old problems," he said, referring to the increase in graduation rate numbers over the last four years.

As for Wilsonville High School, it graduated 96.25 percent of students on time in 2016-17, an increase of 11.61 percentage points since 2013-14.

"Our district is most proud of our students and their continued growth as learners and as people," Ludwig said. "Our graduation rates are a reflection of the hard work and dedication they show on a daily basis."

Overall, the Oregon graduation rate, widely reported to be one of the worst in the nation, has been slowly rising since changes three years ago to include students who earn modified diplomas.

Even with the modified diplomas added, however, students with disabilities at a state level continued to graduate at a very low rate, 58.8 percent.

On the other hand, students with disabilities in the WL-WV School District graduated at a higher rate of 79.17 percent, an increase of almost 3 percentage points from the previous year, and almost 8 percentage points from 2013-14.

Oregon officials say they are particularly proud of the improvement for students of color, who have for years experienced an achievement gap with their white peers.

"We are encouraged by the work underway to make our schools welcoming and effective for all students, which has contributed to better performance for those who have been historically underserved," said Oregon Department of Education Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gil, in a statement with the release of the data. "However, there is much more to be done to make sure all students have the tools and support necessary to reach graduation."

Hispanic and Latino students in Oregon, for example, experienced a 7 percentage point jump in the last three years. Their graduation rate now stands at 72.5 percent, nearly on par with their white peers.

Similar evidence is seen in the WL-WV School District. Hispanic and Latino students jumped about 19 percentage points in the last three years. Their graduation rate is now 92.59 percent.

Black and Native American student groups continued to struggle statewide. Graduation rates for those groups were the lowest at 67.6 percent and 59.1 percent, respectively. Asian students were the ethnicity with the highest graduation rate, at 88.9 percent. White students (66.5 percent of potential graduates) graduated at a 78 percent rate, according to state data.

A similar trend was seen in WL-WV. Black students graduated on time at 66.67 percent.

But the newest data set that the state is now tracking seems to be the most indicative of trouble at school. Out of the nearly 4,000 high school seniors considered homeless, only half graduated on time.

On the bright side, there continues to be a correlation with graduating after career-technical education (CTE) classes. Even students with small amounts of these hands-on programs, such as woodshop and mechanics, seem to succeed. A student with just half a credit of CTE graduates at a rate of 86.3 percent; those who concentrate on CTE, with a full credit or more, graduated at a 91.7 percent rate.

"Hands-on learning awakens students to the power of their own potential, and connects classroom with career," said Governor Kate Brown in a statement.

Brown was criticized last year for not fully funding the requirement of Measure 98, which voters passed in 2016 to create an earmark for high school graduation boosters, like CTE programs. The budget passed by the legislature only funded half of the cost, according to Measure 98 proponents Stand for Children.

"There are a lot of factors that go into graduation rates but a great deal of the credit goes to our students," Ludwig said. "We're fortunate to live in a West Linn-Wilsonville community that cares about its schools, providing many resources and opportunities for our students to succeed. And of course we have tremendous teachers and administrators, all who play a pivotal role in the academic successes of our students."

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