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Graduation rates continue to climb

81.3 percent of the Beaverton School District's class of 2015 earned diplomas in four years.

Jeff RoseFor the first time in recent memory, more than 80 percent of Beaverton School District students graduated on time last June.

Beaverton’s four-year graduation rate reached 81.3 percent for the class of 2015, up nearly 1.6 percent from the previous year, according to data released today by the Oregon Department of Education.

Much of the district’s improvement was notched at Beaverton’s largest schools, and notably, among students who fit into sub-categories where graduation rates typically lag, including those who are learning English as a second language and those who come from low-income families.

Beaverton’s graduation rates substantially exceeded Oregon’s rates but mirror a statewide trend. Across Oregon, graduation rates reached 74 percent, about 2 percent better than 2014.

“The efforts we have begun to focus on in our schools have really paid off,” said Superintendent Jeff Rose, crediting educators across the district for continuing gains that stretch back at least five years. “Instruction makes the difference for our kids.”

Still, Rose said that while pleased at the steady gains in recent years, he’s not satisfied with having four of five kids graduate on time. He said that a 90 percent graduation rate is an attainable goal over time.

The rates compared here are for students who earned a traditional diploma in four years. The rates are higher when figuring in atypical completions, such as GEDs and students who took longer.

Two of Beaverton’s large high schools almost reached the 90 percent mark in 2015, with Southridge graduating 89.6 percent of students in four years and Sunset graduating 89.2 percent.

Sunset saw a 6 percent increase over last year, while Westview’s on-time graduation rate rose more than 3 percent to 84.3 percent.

Aloha High’s graduation rate rose nearly 2 percent to 74.8 percent, putting it and Beaverton High’s 73.9 percent close to the state average for students who earned a traditional diploma in four years.

While all five big schools saw their rates rise, Beaverton High’s improvement was less than 0.2 percent.

On the flip side, for reasons still unknown, the district’s well-regarded options school programs showed overall declines in graduation rates.

“Clearly, I noticed that as well,” Rose said.

The Beaverton School of Science & Technology’s rate dipped about 5 percent to 81.1 percent, close to the districtwide average. Other interest-based programs saw slight declines in their rates but still graduated students at a higher percentage than traditional schools.

It’s also worth noting that, statistically speaking, rates for limited-enrollment programs are more volatile because each student makes up a larger percent of a small graduating class. For example, the district’s much-lauded International School of Beaverton graduated 100 percent of its students on time in 2014 but saw that rate dip to 98.7 percent last spring, when a single student didn’t complete diploma requirements on time.

Students with additional challenges such as living in poverty or learning English as a second language continue to lag behind many of their peers in earning diplomas, but in Beaverton, those gaps narrowed in 2015.

Rose said the district continues to work hard to align its teachers, programs and budgets so students who struggle receive additional help. Results have followed, he added.

A similar strategy is bumping up graduation rates statewide. ODE reported that Oregon school districts are doing more to create college-going cultures, committing to success for all students, building stronger relationships between students and staff, providing individual attention and early intervention for students falling behind and offering summer and after-school programs to provide additional learning time.

One striking example of improvement in Beaverton is that students classified as English Language Learners graduated in four years 59.8 percent of the time. That’s still low but substantially improved from the previous year’s 48.1 percent.

Students classified into several ethnic groups also saw noteworthy improvements, including a 5 percent increase (to 65.9 percent) for Hispanic/Latino students. That increase far outpaced the 2 percent statewide gains for the district’s largest minority group, who not long ago graduated from Beaverton’s schools at a rate closer to 56 percent.

The graduation rate among white students, overall the district’s largest ethnic category, was steady at 84.5 percent.

Students whose families are categorized as economically disadvantaged improved at a faster rate than those without the designation. However, the graduation rate of students from low-income families still lags far behind, 68.5 percent compared to more than 90 percent for students without an economic disadvantage.

Rose did, however, find some unwelcome results among the mostly positive trends.

For one, the Community School — the district’s alternative program at Merlo Station for students who have fallen behind elsewhere — saw its on-time graduation rate slide from 40 percent to 35 percent.

Also, almost counter-intuitively, while the district’s on-time graduation rate has risen steadily in recent years, its dropout rate also has been up the past two years.

In the Beaverton School District, slightly more than 4 percent of district students dropped out during the 2014-15 school year, just under the statewide average of 4.3 percent, according to additional data ODE issued this week measuring students who left school at any grade level.

The local rate increased from 3.4 percent in 2014 and 2.7 percent the previous two years, Rose said.

“It was a bump,” he said, noting that a segment of district students clearly still struggles to complete high school and may need new approaches.