Work starts in grade school to boost number of students in Estacada with diplomas

FILE PHOTO - An Estacada High School senior is triumphant during the 2017 graduation ceremony. Estacada High School graduated 76 percent of its 2017 senior class in four years.

Estacada High School graduated 76 percent of its 2017 senior class in four years, a big jump from the 69.9 percent graduation rate a year earlier, statistics recently released by the Oregon Department of Education show.

The increase in Estacada mirrors the state's improved graduation rates. Overall 76.6 percent of the senior class in Oregon graduated in 2017, up from 74.8 percent in 2016.

Estacada has put in place multiple programs to boost graduation rates and prepare students for careers or college.

At the high-school level "there are two periods in the school day (for all grades) to go to teachers and get extra support," said Maggie Kelly, communications coordinator for the school district.

In another program to improve student learning, teachers in the district belong to professional learning communities. PLCs allow small groups of teachers, usually from the same grade level, to get together, generally weekly, to improve their teaching. They go over data from student quizzes and other evaluations and brainstorm ways to help every student master every concept and skill taught.

"We're focusing on teacher collaboration," Kelly said.

Oregon's 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. Those are diplomas are issued to students with learning barriers or medical problems.

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

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 Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill — the leader of the state education department — 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, 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.

Black and Native American student groups continued to struggle on the whole. 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.

Girls are graduating at higher rates than boys with 79.9 percent of female students getting a diploma in 2017, compared to 73.6 percent for male students.

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 wood shop 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. "That kind of engagement helps students cross the stage at graduation and equips them for next steps, whether that's college or a job. I am dedicated to ensuring that students, communities and districts have what they need for all students to graduate with a plan for their future."

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.

Shasta Kearns Moore contributed to this story.

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