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State sees uptick in high school graduation rates; Gresham-Barlow grew more than 15 percent

The Oregon Department of Education recently released its 2012-13 graduation rates for high schools in the state.

Across Oregon, four-year graduation rates grew only slightly, up to 68.7 percent from 68.4 percent. About 3.98 percent of students dropped out of high school last year, according to the state.

“While I’m pleased to see our graduation numbers increasing, we simply aren’t seeing the pace of change we need,” Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton said in a news release. “However, true systems change — including how well we support our students on their path to higher education and workforce training, takes time and starts early.”

Saxton said improving graduation rates begins with a strong early start for students in kindergarten.

“I believe that if we keep moving forward with intention and urgency, we will start to see more significant gains. But change will not happen overnight, and it will not happen without all of us working to improve the opportunities and outcomes for our students,” Saxton said.

Results were released amid Oregon’s ambitious goal of 40-40-20 that calls for a 100 percent high school completion rate by 2025, with all students completing a high school diploma or its equivalent within five years of starting school.

In turn, the state has a goal for 40 percent to enter four-year colleges and universities and receive a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent to attend community college or trade school and receive associate degrees, and 20 percent to enter the work place upon graduation.

“As we work toward reaching the state goal of 100 percent of students completing high school by 2025, these results certainly aren’t in line with where we hoped we’d be,” said Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden.

“That said, meaningful systemic change does take time, and I believe deeply in the alignment, collaboration, and focus we’re building throughout the system in support of student achievement.”

In the Gresham-Barlow district, four-year graduation rates climbed the highest of East Multnomah County schools.

They grew by 15.5 percent for Gresham High — from 60.5 to 76 percent — and 15.3 percent for Sam Barlow High School — from 70 to 85.3 percent — between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 school years.

The district’s Springwater Trail High School had a graduation rate of 71 percent, while its web academy had 33 percent.

James Hiu, deputy superintendent of secondary education and operations, said there were three factors that contributed to the district’s increased graduation rates: an increased focus on instruction and teaching for Common Core Standards, particularly in language arts and math; increased learning and credit recovery options such as the SUN Program and Connection Coordinators; and working with students and families on attendance to reduce absences.

“We’re happy with these results, but we have a lot of work to continue to do,” Hiu said. “I’m proud of our principals and schools.”

Gresham High Principal John Koch said he believes his school and the broader district has been successful in improving graduation rates because it’s focusing on how to build strong relationships with students and connecting them with the proper resources.

“We’re going to continue focusing on individual success,” Koch said. “We’re going to find the areas where we need to improve and continue to strive to make sure they’re connected.

“I think the success is bigger when you consider the huge numbers of staff we’ve had to reduce over the past five years. It’s difficult to focus on improving graduation rates when we’re reducing or eliminating programs because of the economy.”

In neighboring districts, high school graduation rates either stagnated or dipped.

Centennial retained its graduation rate of about 79 percent, but the district dropped to 65 percent — about 4 percent below the state level. Centennial Learning Center had 9 percent of its students graduate on time.

Corbett Charter School has a 100 percent graduation rate, while Corbett School has an 83 percent graduation rate. Its district graduation rate was

89 percent.

Reynolds High School’s rate was the lowest among East County schools at 61 percent, with Reynolds Learning Academy at 30 percent. Its district rate dropped to 55 percent.

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