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Putting the Pieces Together to Improve Oregon's High School Graduation Rates

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Monday, September 19, 2016

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The problem with Oregon’s current high school graduation rate isn’t any different from what it has been; although the rate has improved, it’s still among the lowest in the country.

What’s changed is the recognition of the severity of the problem, deep commitment from state officials, the Every Student Succeeds Act (which was signed into law in December 2015 and requires on-time high school graduation rates of at least 67 percent), and the mandate to do something about it through support and interventions.

Although what happens at the K–12 level matters as much as ever, many groups across the state are also paying close attention to the bookends—early childhood education and community college, as well as other postsecondary success—as they work to address the problem of Oregon’s low high school graduation rate.

Here are three “bookend” projects in which we’ve participated:

  • Along with a broad range of partners, including researchers, early childhood education providers, parent advocates, kindergarten teachers, and elementary school principals, we took part in an Oregon Department of Education working group to create learning standards that align what children learn in preschool or home settings with what will help them succeed in kindergarten. (The standards are nearing release.) The formation of the working group demonstrates the state’s recognition that a student’s path to high school graduation greatly depends on early learning experiences, as well as the importance of supporting smooth transitions for students as they enter kindergarten, especially with full-day kindergarten now in place across Oregon.
  • With partner districts through the Oregon Leadership Network (OLN), we are working to build the capacity of school leaders to establish policies and practices that promote equity among students—to launch a graduation-focused community of practice. Made up of superintendents and staff members from OLN districts, the group focused on increasing the number of students who earn a regular or modified diploma within four or five years of entering high school. The group joins those already in place to expand educational opportunities for English language learners and establish early warning systems to support students most at risk of dropping out of high school.
  • We are conducting a statewide study on accelerated college credit, as well as providing districts and colleges with individual reports on dual-credit participation. (One way the state is moving to streamline the path to higher education is to provide access to dual- or accelerated-credit opportunities, allowing high school students to earn college credits.) We are also involved in a community college developmental education redesign process. This work is intended to alleviate the troubling consequences for students who are required to take developmental education courses before they can start earning transferable college credits.

Check out our companion pieces on efforts to improve Oregon’s graduation rate, including "150,000 Reasons" from the state’s new education innovation officer, Colt Gill and our Q and A with Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Salam Noor.