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Left Behind

Pete Springer/OPB

Many people — including Mayor Sam Adams — are worried about the high school dropout rate in Portland. But they’re not alone. Dropout rates are a concern for parents and districts across the state. One Eugene high school counselor says her school even keeps a “worry book” on seniors considered high risk. There’s some disagreement about the rate — and even how you calculate it — but few people think it’s low enough.

Adams frequently cites a Portland Schools Foundation study which found that only 57 percent of the class of 2004 in Portland Public Schools earned a diploma within five years. And PPS will release a follow-up report on the class of 2007 this June that is expected to show the five-year graduation rate has improved, but only to 63.2 percent.

Adams’s spokesman Roy Kaufmann says the cohort study is “foundational” to Adams’s education policy, which includes halving the drop-out rate by 2013. The 2009-2010 city budget proposal includes hundreds of thousands of dollars to this end.

But are the findings an accurate reflection of Portland students’ graduation rates? Drop out rates, after all, vary depending on the methodology and criteria of the study involved. The Oregon Department of Education, for instance, reported an all-time low state drop-out rate for last year of just 3.7 percent, a figure which grows to 8.4 percent for Portland Public Schools. But that study looked at the overall drop-out rate in a single year. And Tony Alpert, the state education department’s director of assessment, says that next year the state will report a cohort graduation rate in line with a 2011 federal requirement — a move that will likely decrease those counted as graduates by an estimated 10 percent.

So what data is most helpful in determining who drops out and why? How do you keep students in school? What behaviors should schools and parents watch out for?

Did you drop out of high school? How has that affected your life? Do you have a child in danger of dropping out? Are you an educator struggling to keep kids in school?


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