If you’re going to finish high school, first, you have to get through freshman year.
Oregon schools are closely tracking how many ninth-graders are likely to graduate, based on whether they’re earning six credits, which is equal to one-quarter of the credits required to earn a high school diploma.
Since 2013–14, when the Oregon Department of Education started consistently tracking those figures, the state’s high schools appear to be making progress in their efforts with freshmen. The number of high schools getting at least 90 percent of its freshmen to earn those credits has gone up, while there are fewer high schools where less than half are getting those credits.
According to school and district report cards released Thursday, high schools are mostly hanging on to strong progress they made with freshmen in the last three years.
In 2013–14, there were 27 Oregon high schools where less than half of freshmen were earning the expected credits. By 2016–17, that number was cut to 14 high schools. At the same time, the elite club of high schools getting at least 90 percent of its freshmen to earn a year’s worth of credits had grown from 61 in 2013–14 to a high point of 88 in 2015-16. It dropped off to 79 schools last school year.
One of Oregon’s largest public schools, Reynolds High School, has followed the statewide trend of steady improvement since 2013–14, with a backslide last year. Reynolds’ “Freshmen On Track” numbers rose from 49 percent in 2013–14 to 81.7 percent in 2015–16, but they fell to 70 percent last year.
Reynolds district spokesperson Andrea Watson said the recent decline was due to budget cuts that reduced the high school’s program for ninth-graders.
“Freshman Access was eliminated and that program is the reason the on-track numbers were so good,” Watson said.
In the high school’s 2013–14 report card, Principal Wade Barkley said the new “Freshman Access” class aimed to “help our freshmen navigate a large school more successfully.”
Watson said with the help of funds from the voter-approved high school initiative, Measure 98, Freshman Access is back this school year. Watson said the measure will also help pay for more counselors in the high school.
A handful of other high schools saw improvements that rival or exceed Reynolds in recent years. Mohawk High School in the Lane County town of Marcola jumped from having just 48 percent of freshmen earning six credits to having 94 percent of them doing so, according to the latest state data.
Madras High School has steadily improved, with its ninth-graders rising from 46 percent on track to graduate in 2013–14 to 82 percent in 2016–17.
Five of Portland Public Schools’ comprehensive high schools boast at least a 95 percent “Freshmen On Track” rate: Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln, Madison and Wilson. Benson, Jefferson and Franklin all have at least 87 percent of their freshmen on track to graduate last year. At Roosevelt, it was nearly 79 percent. Those numbers are all at least moderately better than where Portland freshmen stood a few years ago.
Each of Beaverton’s comprehensive high schools has steadily improved its on-track numbers for freshmen to at least 79 percent, with three in the 90 percent range: Southridge, Sunset and Westview.
The high schools in the Salem-Keizer School District have also generally improved their success with freshmen, including McNary High, which had nearly 93 percent of ninth graders earning the minimum credits in 2016-17.