New Oregon education data shows more 9th graders on track, but attendance falling

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Oct. 20, 2022 1 p.m.

The state’s rate of “regular attenders” — students who go to school 90% of the time — tumbled last year, as schools came back from pandemic closures.

Some of what’s in the Oregon Department of Education’s At-A-Glance profiles was already known. The profiles, designed for parents and school communities to see how schools did in the 2021-2022 school year, included the plummeting state assessment scores for students across the state, as well as a dip in the high school graduation rate for the Class of 2021.

But they also include other information, including the number of teachers and counselors in a school, the percentage of 9th graders on track to graduate, and regular attendance. The new data points also show the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the importance of in-person learning.


Education department director Colt Gill pointed to a 9 percent increase in the share of 9th graders on track to graduate, as well as increases in school staff numbers in most districts across the state.

He also noted the percentage of regular attenders, or students who come to school at least 90% of the time, declined almost 16 percentage points, from 80.7% in the 2018-2019 school year to 65% for 2021-2022.

Attendance rate down 15.7% from pre-pandemic levels

Last year, officials published the state’s “Regular Attenders” report with a big bolded note: The rates for 2020-2021 were not comparable to data from previous years. In that year, some schools were still in distance learning. Others moved to a hybrid of in-person and online learning as the year went on. Schools tracked attendance in a variety of ways.

With most schools back completely in person for 2021-22, state officials said the latest attendance figures are now comparable to data from before the pandemic.

That shows attendance declined substantially last year. The state’s regular attender rate was 65%, meaning one out of every three students missed 10% or more of the school year.

A screenshot of the Oregon Department of Education’s At-A-Glance profiles.

A screenshot of the Oregon Department of Education’s At-A-Glance profiles.

Oregon Department of Education

Gill said that while the numbers don’t say why students weren’t at school, COVID-19 had an impact.

“We do know that we opened schools and we operated in-person during the two highest levels of COVID-19, and we know that that had an impact on staff attendance and on students’ attendance,” Gill said, citing the timing of the delta and omicron variants.

In media files, the state only shared district attendance data for students in kindergarten through second grade.

K-2 attendance at 100 of Oregon’s 197 districts fell below the state’s 65% average.

In eight of Oregon’s 10 largest districts, that K-2 regular attender rate was better than the state average. In Portland, it was 71%, though attendance varied widely by school. In Beaverton, it was 75%, again, with a lot of variation.

In Oregon’s third largest school district, Salem-Keizer, only 50% of students in kindergarten through second grade were at school for 90% of the time. At McKay High School, it was 35%.

In the Reynolds School District, the rate of regular attenders schoolwide at Reynolds High School was 40%. At Reynolds Middle School, 38%. At Salish Ponds Elementary School, 32%.

Reynolds Director of Assessment and Systems Improvement Rachel Aazzerah said absences piled up for students who had to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, or tested positive themselves.


“If a kid had COVID, for example, they were out, say, five plus days,” Aazzerah said.

Aazzerah said district officials are still reviewing attendance numbers and figuring out how to better engage students to come to school on a regular basis. She points out a newly hired athletic director and middle school sports as “additional opportunities” for students that may keep them engaged. The district also has staff who reach out to families directly.

Aazzerah points out high mobility as another potential cause for student attendance issues. The district’s mobility rate for 2021-2022 was 21%, the highest in Multnomah County.

“I think it’s not just one definite issue of why,” Aazzerah said.

Attendance continues to be a challenge at many schools this year. Citing attendance records on Oct. 19 of the current school year, Reynolds district officials said about 40% of students were absent, districtwide. District officials said they are working to develop an “appropriate attendance policy” for the district with the Multnomah Education Service District and Every Day Matters, a statewide campaign to reduce chronic absenteeism. District officials note that summer programming the last two years was “greater than 80%.”

In Central Oregon, about two-thirds of the schools in the Bend-La Pine district had attendance rates below the state average, including 30% at Rosland Elementary, 45% at LaPine Middle School, and 51% at Bend Senior High School.

In an email, Bend-La Pine Director of School Improvement Dave VanLoo said COVID and quarantine periods contributed to lower attendance in his district. When asked if attendance has shown signs of improvement this year, he said it’s too soon to tell.

“The data become much more trustworthy later in the school year,” he shared.

Anecdotally, ODE Director Gill said he heard from superintendents last month that attendance was “more regular.”

But in both districts and across the state, another data point shows promising improvement, especially for high school students: the percentage of 9th graders on track to graduate. In Reynolds, the rate for 9th graders in 2021-2022 jumped 20 percentage points from the previous year, from 46% to 66%. In Bend-La Pine, the rate is at 91%, eight points higher than the state average.

9th Grade On-Track now closer to pre-pandemic levels

Statewide, the percentage of 9th graders on track to graduate increased 9%, from 74% to 83%. Students are considered on-track if they pass a quarter of the classes needed to graduate in their freshman year of high school.

“We believe that when we moved back to in-person instruction, and high school students were regularly meeting with educators, and forming those relationships, and getting on-site support, that we would begin to see that number come back up, and it is doing that, and that’s great news,” Gill said.

The rate is still two percentage points lower than in 2018-2019.

Gill calls the rebounding of 9th Grade On-Track an early indicator that student achievement is recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.

“Seeing that bounce back after coming back to the first year of fully in-person instruction is really a positive sign, and I think that we will begin to see the other measures — the assessment measures, any of our measures related to graduation — I think that we will all see those begin to climb as we move back towards in-person instruction,” Gill said.

Gill said the school profiles will continue to be a helpful tool as school leaders make decisions around spending federal funds and state funds from the Student Success Act and the Measure 98-funded High School Success grant program.

“With so many of our investments tied closely to community investment, this is a really key tool to informing those conversations,” Gill said.

One of those investments, the Student Success Act, includes a focus on serving students in foster care. For the first time, state and local data include specific information about the 3,046 students in foster care who were enrolled in Oregon schools last year.

Only a handful of school districts show data for students in foster care — to protect student privacy, data is not displayed for students in schools with fewer than 10 students in a specific group. Data that is available shows younger students in foster care have higher attendance rates than the state average.