An audit from the Secretary of State’s office found practices at the Oregon Department of Education “do not promote” the state’s goal of graduating all of its students by the year 2025.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released data that showed Oregon’s graduation rate remains among the lowest in the country

The audit found five practices at ODE make it difficult for the state to make progress with specific groups of students, including those whose performance ODE isn’t tracking.

“This confirms what educators have known for years,” said Oregon Education Association President John Larson in a statement on the audit. “Far too many Oregon students are failing to graduate on time because our public schools lack the resources they need.”

1. ODE doesn’t track high school students who transfer schools.

Through interviews, data analysis and school visits, the audit found students who transfer school districts in high school struggle to graduate compared to students who don’t transfer.

For example, students who transferred at least once in their high school career and were part of the 2015–2016 graduating cohort had an on-time graduation rate of 51 percent. The statewide graduation rate is 75 percent.

Students who transfer districts in high school account for more than a quarter of all high school students. Yet the audit found ODE doesn’t track the performance of these students. 

2. Mid-performing schools feel neglected.

The audit also found that mid-performing schools — or schools with graduation rates between 67 percent and 85 percent — are largely neglected by ODE, even though mid-performing schools account for the largest portion of non-graduates and dropouts.

Schools with low graduation rates account for 17,000 students and 3,600 non-graduates last school year. Schools with mid-range graduation rates, meanwhile, accounted for 86,000 students and 4,900 non-graduates. 

The audit highlights ODE’s focus on the state’s lowest-performing schools. Support from ODE comes in the form of an assigned Leadership Coach who helps with improvement intervention. Interviews with officials from four mid-performing schools found they want more improvement support and guidance from ODE, too.

3. ODE doesn’t emphasize middle school students’ transition to high school.

While ODE has sharpened its focus on improving high school graduation rates, it hasn’t focused as much attention on the transition from middle to high school — a period that can foreshadow high school performance.

According to the audit, few high schools partnered with middle schools to help incoming freshmen prepare for the 9th grade. 

The audit cites students who struggle in middle school are at risk of not graduating from high school.

4. Key information on student performance is missing.

ODE has a lot of data on Oregon students. But the audit found it’s not tracking key information on student course performance that could shed light on the challenges students face when trying to graduate.

For example, interviews with staff indicate math was a challenge for students, especially freshmen who struggle with Algebra 1. According to the audit, data on student performance in such courses could help ODE determine when students are likely to fall off track to graduation.

5. ODE should improve communication with the community.

Schools contacted for the audit said they want more support from ODE to help them communicate the importance of graduation to their respective communities. 

Communication problems largely stem from internal communication dysfunction at ODE.

According to interviews with ODE staff, the agency runs most of its programs — including standards and instructional support and data operations — in isolation.

The audit found the lack of effective sharing and coordination makes it difficult for agency staff to know what anyone in the agency is working on. Schools interviewed in the audit process, meanwhile, say they want more help from ODE engaging parents and the community.