Percent of pupils earning a high school diploma in five years rises to 86 percent, but officials arent satisfied

Forest Grove High School's four-year graduation rate rose by two-tenths of a percent in 2011-12 compared to the year before, data released last week shows.

The percent of students earning a regular diploma in four years was 72.5, up from 72.3 in 2010-11. The percent earning a diploma in five years was 86 percent last year, up from 79.4 percent the year before.

"We went up marginally," FGHS Principal Karen Robinson noted. "We're taking a look at all the data."

According to a Jan. 31 report from the Oregon Department of Education, the statewide four-year graduation rate for 2011-12 was 68.4 percent, up only slightly from the previous year's rate of 67.6 percent.

Among students taking five years to graduate, 72.4 percent did so across the state in 2011-12, up from 70.9 percent in 2010-11.

Oregon also saw a tiny increase in the statewide dropout rate, with 3.4 percent of students dropping out of high school last year, compared to an all-time low of 3.3 percent in 2010-11, the ODE report noted.

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton said he has "an ambitious vision for education," including all students completing high school. "Our current system isn't getting us there," he said.

FGHS' dropout rate for 2010-11 was 1.88 percent. In 2011-12 it was 1.85 for all students, Robinson said.

Cohort or completion

ODE data divided students into several subgroups, including those who earn a regular diploma (cohort rate) and those who earn a modified diploma or a General Educational Development (completion rate). At Forest Grove High, students who enter as freshmen without facility in English face a particular challenge, according to Robinson.

"They really get hit doubly hard," she said of pupils grouped as English Language Development students. "Many times those kids will need an extra year to graduate — to get the work done."

Robinson said the district's ELD facilitator, Leonard Terrible, works individually with pupils to keep them on track toward graduation. "He keeps them dialed in," she noted. "We are constantly accommodating students who want to earn a diploma."

Even students who don't graduate in five years with a regular diploma aren't left off the radar of local administrators.

"I do like the completion rate, because it encompasses our entire student population," including all nationality demographics, economically disadvantaged and those in special education or talented and gifted classes, noted Robinson.

Those who struggle toward eventual graduation "are still here every day, doing their work," she said.

A ways to go

By 2025, state education leaders aim to graduate 100 percent of students within five years. To that end, Gov. John Kitzhaber is promoting an early reading initiative, a statewide professional development network for teachers, increased focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programs and an increased focus on career guidance for students.

Local schools are focused similarly, officials say. Yet even with its small uptick in its graduation rate last year, Robinson said Forest Grove educators aren't satisfied.

"I'm happy we continue to make strides, but we have a ways to go in some areas," she said.

Posting better test scores and graduation rates while trying to keep pupils from dropping out "gets to be a challenge" when school budgets must be cut, noted Robinson.

"Ideally we'd have a higher number graduating in four years," she said. "We look at this data and say, 'OK, we had 72.5 percent graduate — what can we do better?'"

Banks High School

Banks High School saw its dropout rate decline 4 percent last year, from 19 percent to 15 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Two years ago, 13 high schoolers dropped out. Last year, 16 students did. But because BHS added several pupils to its rolls in 2011-12, the percentages went in its favor.

Meanwhile, its four-year graduation rate inched up almost 3 percent, from 75.9 percent to 80.6 percent, during the same time period for students earning a regular diploma.

And, the tiny school's five-year, regular-diploma graduation rate rose nearly 10 percent since 2010-11, from 72.5 percent to 82.3 percent.

Still, Superintendent Bob Huston said Monday he was hoping for better news from the Oregon Department of Education, which released statewide graduation and dropout data Thursday.

"I do not feel we can ever be satisfied with any result less than 100 percent (graduating)," he said. "Every student counts."

The percent of Banks students who earned a "completion rate" diploma — a modified diploma or GED — in four years rose from 83 percent to 87 percent, the data revealed. The percent of five-year "completers" dropped 1 percent, from 87 percent in 2010-11 to 86 percent in 2011-12.

Huston said that while "some students lose interest and confidence" during high school, teachers and administrators "never give up" on them.

"Our staff struggles right alongside them," he said. "Our school district has been operating on less and less revenue over the last three years, with less staff, less days of school and without the programs we know could boost our graduation rates.

"I am very proud of what our students and staff accomplish. We do an outstanding job with what we have."

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