Oregon’s graduation rates barely moved last school year, according to a report released Thursday morning. Last year’s seniors had a different challenge than their predecessors. This is the first time graduates had to prove they were proficient readers to get diplomas.
When the state started requiring “essential skills” for graduation, parents and educators were nervous. Oregon Education Department spokeswoman Crystal Greene recalls the concern around proving the Reading skill.
"It doesn’t appear to have had a significant impact on graduation rates - at least not at the state level," she says.
Greene acknowledges that the graduation rates for some specific groups of students did go down. The grad rate for special education students fell four percentage points. The rate for students with limited English dropped 3 percent.
"However we also saw a larger percentage of them continuing on for a fifth year," she says. "And it seems likely that some of these students may have been staying on for a fifth year, in order to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to meet this new requirement.”
The Salem-Keizer School District is one of Oregon’s largest school systems. Salem-Keizer graduated less than 40 percent of its special ed students in four years. And less than half of Salem’s students learning English graduated on time. Those are both about the state average.
Kelly Carlisle supervises Salem-Keizer’s high schools. He says both English-language learners and special ed students struggle with high school level language.
"What’s going to help the student is enough time with the academic English to be successful," he says.
Carlisle says he’s seen success from specific support programs targeting academic English. As for the essential skill of reading, Carlisle says it’s just one reason students might not graduate on time.
"We certainly had some students – as we do every year – who didn’t have the right number of credits in the right areas, who needed to come back and be with us for more than four years," he says.
Carlisle notes that Salem’s five-year graduation rate rose this past year, and is now above the state average, at 74 percent.
But it’s not close to the state’s long-term graduation goals.