Are we doing enough to improve our high school graduation rate? | The Chalkboard Project

Are we doing enough to improve our high school graduation rate?

Thursday, December 10, 2015 Sue Hildick

Each year, nearly 10,000 Oregon students fail to graduate. For every four who do, one falls through the cracks. We rank in the bottom nationally, and while the national rate has been steadily increasing, Oregon’s remains flat.

According to our paper, Sealing the Cracks, states that have high graduation rates or have achieved substantial growth over the last few years have three things in common: They prioritize high school graduation, support the use of data to identify at-risk students, and emphasize data quality.

So what are we doing here in Oregon? Not enough.

We urge our state leaders to make high school completion a priority: Launch an aggressive plan to help districts graduate more students. These recommendations are a starting point.

Establish an urgent statewide goal. Set a stretch, but reachable goal to increase our four-year graduation rate to 85 percent within five years. Develop annual statewide targets: Each percentage increase represents at least 450 more students who graduate.
Form a high-level ODE high school completion team. Accountable to the deputy state superintendent and led by a current high school leader(s), this team is responsible for elevating high school completion and is deeply connected to practitioners in the field.

Guarantee data accuracy. The 2015 legislature passed a budget note requiring ODE to reach out to districts that report low graduation rates to verify their data, and to report back to the legislature on its efforts to provide training to all registrars to ensure quality data reporting.

Develop a statewide real time early warning system. Provide regular, ongoing feedback for all high school students, preferably in eighth grade or early in their freshman year. Key markers include chronic absenteeism, behavioral referrals, academic progress, and individual student growth.

Learn from external success. Study and visit other states that are making substantial progress in high school completion. How are they addressing accountability, data structures, and supports for schools and districts? 

Learn from internal success. Publicize lessons learned. Which Oregon schools and districts are successfully graduating more students? Which have shown the greatest improvement in the last five years? What can we learn from them?

Advocate for students at risk. Establish a threshold for comprehensive high schools and alternative settings. Which comprehensive high schools lose an egregious number of students each year? Which alternative structures, including online schools, appear to be gaining students and financial benefit with little success to show?

Celebrate breakthroughs. Identify and highlight successful schools and teams. Ask foundations and businesses to commit substantial resources in prizes and awards for students and staff who demonstrate sustained turnarounds. What if students in vastly improving high schools received awards?

An average Oregon elementary school enrolls about 300 students. Imagine one such school closes every week during the school year, with every individual student lost. This is our stark reality. We urge our state and education leaders to reflect on the sheer magnitude of students who fail to graduate. Our students deserve fresh approaches, new energy, and bold leadership.

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