Education

Reports show more Oregon students on track to graduate, but attendance, college advancement are down

By Natalie Pate (OPB)
Oct. 26, 2023 1:40 p.m.

The state’s annual At-A-Glance profiles help families and educators see how their schools are faring.

More ninth-graders across Oregon are on track to graduate from high school, but regular attendance statewide has continued to decline and suffer since COVID-19. School staffing has increased above pre-pandemic levels and teacher retention rates are holding steady, but principal turnover is up.

Meanwhile, fewer high school graduates are going straight to college.

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A student takes notes during class at Grant High School in Portland, Ore., Oct. 3, 2023. The school opened in September, 1924, and is in the Portland Public Schools district..

A student takes notes during class at Grant High School in Portland, Ore., Oct. 3, 2023. The school opened in September, 1924, and is in the Portland Public Schools district..

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

These are some of the key findings from the Oregon Department of Education regarding the state of K-12 schools today. The agency released its At-A-Glance School and District Profiles for the 2022-23 school year on Thursday.

The profiles, called report cards until 2018, are designed to provide important school and district-level information to local communities. While they only represent a snapshot in time, they can be a helpful dashboard for families and educators to see what is and isn’t working.

ODE Director Charlene Williams said Oregon isn’t where it needs to be as a state. But she said these reports will help education leaders identify what needs to change.

“I’m in no way satisfied with where these results are,” Williams said. “I took this role to make a difference. [We] need to see what the data are telling us and be responsive to that.”

On track to graduate

Williams said it was a positive sign that more high schoolers are on track to graduate.

Graduation is only one marker of success, but research shows that people without high school diplomas are more likely to be unemployed, have lower incomes, poorer health and higher incarceration rates, as cited by the state.

Oregon’s on-track rate nudged up last year by just shy of 1% and is close to matching pre-pandemic levels. Students are considered on track if they earn at least one-quarter of their required graduation credits by the end of ninth grade.

Nearly 84% of all ninth-graders were on track to graduate, according to the latest data. Freshmen who are currently or formerly incarcerated, part of the foster care system or experiencing homelessness had the lowest rates of being on track.

State officials said this year’s increase represents nearly 700 more students who are on track compared to a year ago.

Ali, a junior at Portland's David Douglas High School, fills out an assignment sheet in her English class on September 5, 2023. Ali is part of OPB's Class of 2025 project.

Ali, a junior at Portland's David Douglas High School, fills out an assignment sheet in her English class on September 5, 2023. Ali is part of OPB's Class of 2025 project.

Caden Perry / OPB

Individual school districts saw varying results. In Oregon’s two largest districts, for example, 81.5% of ninth-graders were on track to graduate in Salem-Keizer Public Schools compared to 90.5% in Portland Public Schools.

Several districts – typically much smaller in overall enrollment – had more than 95% of students on track, including Lake Oswego, Sisters and Silver Falls school districts.

Regular attendance

The statewide regular attendance rate dropped by 2% in the last year, down to about 61.9% across Oregon.

That means about 38% of all Oregon students – more than 200,000 kids and teenagers – are chronically absent. State officials said most of the declines were among elementary students.

Regular attendance is defined by the state as students who attend 90% or more of the days they are enrolled. The length of the school year varies by district, but officials said, generally speaking, students who are chronically absent are missing about 16 or 17 days of school per year.

Research shows absences decrease student four-year graduation rates, course grades and test scores, among other things.

“Really what this shows is that there are still continued impacts of the pandemic, on our educational system, and on students and families,” Jon Wiens, director of accountability for ODE, told reporters in a recent press conference about the data.

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Williams expanded on this, saying COVID has caused students to miss school due to their own illness, poor health of family members or the need to quarantine. She said families have also experienced greater financial stress since COVID relief dollars ended and they’ve still needed to cover rising rental and food costs.

A numbers display in a kindergarten classroom at McNary Heights Elementary School in Umatilla, Ore. on Oct. 4, 2022.

A numbers display in a kindergarten classroom at McNary Heights Elementary School in Umatilla, Ore. on Oct. 4, 2022.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

In addition to statewide initiatives, ODE officials said districts that have seen improvements tend to have a few factors in common — they help remove barriers to attendance, and they make schools more engaging and welcoming.

Typically, these schools have student success teams that include administration, counselors and staff to review student attendance more frequently. They also hire staff who monitor attendance, provide data to administrators and regularly check on students in their homes.

And in the classroom, educators in places seeing improvements are providing multiple programs for students to study and best match their interests and long-term goals. This is most commonly seen as a success at the high school level with things like career and technical education programs.

Portland and Salem-Keizer straddled the state average, with Portland slightly above at 63.6% of its students regularly attending, compared to about 52% in Salem-Keizer.

Fossil School District — serving about 1,400 students in Central Oregon — is the only traditional district, according to the latest data, that saw a regular attendance rate above 95% for all of its students.

Going to college

Oregon’s declining college-going rates seem to match national trends.

The rate of Oregon students going to college within 16 months of graduation declined nearly a full percentage point to 55.6% for the Class of 2021.

Female students are enrolling in college at substantially higher levels — 62% across Oregon, the latest data shows, compared to about 49% of male students. College-going rates declined for most racial and ethnic groups, but they increased for students who are federally identified as American Indian/Alaska Native or Asian.

Some individual schools — typically schools with a specific focus — saw an increase in the percentage of students going to college, including the International School of Beaverton, Lake Oswego Senior High School and Salem-Keizer’s Early College High School School, which all had college-going rates above 87%.

Oregon officials said the statewide decline reflects data from when the pandemic was at its peak, and that the decline is much smaller than the more than 5 percentage point drop reported last year.

This is happening during a growing conversation nationwide about the role or need for college degrees.

Portland State University instructor Annette Dietz lectures to the 13 students in the classroom and others who are online, on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in Portland. Data released in Oct. 2023 by the Oregon Department of Education shows fewer high school students going straight to college after graduating.

Portland State University instructor Annette Dietz lectures to the 13 students in the classroom and others who are online, on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in Portland. Data released in Oct. 2023 by the Oregon Department of Education shows fewer high school students going straight to college after graduating.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

In 2021, 61.8% of recent high school graduates were enrolled in college — the lowest immediate college enrollment rate in 20 years — as seen in data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Oregon, fewer jobs require a bachelor’s degree, dating back to before the pandemic, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department, as previously reported by OPB.

Williams said many students are still recovering from learning loss during the pandemic. Financial hardship, online learning challenges, inequitable access to technology and difficulty accessing support services were among the many reasons students may have decided not to go straight to college after graduating.

“Students just really wanted to put college on pause, you know, while they could figure out their lives,” she said.

Though it’s still common to see college and university signs throughout schools and other materials that encourage students to explore higher education opportunities — some Oregon districts are elevating career preparation, with less focus on college enrollment. One example is Salem-Keizer, where the district’s vision is: “All students graduate and are prepared for a successful life.”

Learn more about your school and district

The At-A-Glance School and District Profiles contain previously released assessment data for the last school year, previously released graduation data for the class of 2022 and some new data for the 2022-23 school year.

This year’s reports include a few new data points as well, including data on students from military families and staffing information on school social workers.

View your school or district’s profiles at ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.

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