Oregon high school dropout rate drops to lowest in a decade

August 28, 2009 by  
Filed under In The News, Latest News

Oregon high school dropout rate drops to lowest in a decade

by Bill Graves, The Oregonian

Wednesday April 15, 2009, 8:24 PM

Stephanie Yao Long/The Oregonian Elfego Sanchez, 19, helps third-graders, including Gloria Martinez (right) at Gaffney Lane Elementary with reading as part of his senior project for Oregon City High. He returned to school this year after dropping out last spring and is on track to graduate. He now is considering going to college and becoming a teaching assistant. “The kids respond so well to him,” said teacher Karen Hankins.

Oregon’s dropout rate fell last year to an all-time low, in part because of better school options focused on kids in danger of quitting, state officials reported Wednesday.

A total 6,678 high school students – enough to fill three big schools — quit in 2007-08. That amounts to 3.7 percent of Oregon’s high school population, a decline from the previous year’s 4.2 percent dropout rate and the lowest level since the state started tracking dropouts nearly 20 years ago.

Dropout rates varied widely across the state. Portland’s rate remained the highest in the metro area, at 8.4 percent. By contrast, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District nearly eradicated its dropout rate, reducing it to 0.9 percent. Rates fell to 1.4 percent in Oregon City and 1.3 percent in Lake Oswego.

At 2,200-student Oregon City Senior High, educators have dramatically reduced the dropout rate to 25 students, or 1.1 percent, down from 5 percent three years ago. Elfego Sanchez, 19, was one of those dropouts, but he is back at Oregon City High and on track to graduate this spring. He left school as a junior a year ago to visit his ill grandmother in Mexico. He also “was confused with school and work,” he said.

Oregon school-by-school guide of test scores and state and federal ratings that include graduation and dropout rates.

Sanchez stayed for six months in Mexico, searched for a job and soon learned employers wanted to see a diploma. He returned to Oregon City High, where administrators were able to make room for him in their new Twilight School, a flexible program that allows students to attend school into the evening. At least four other dropouts from last year are in the school and on track to graduate.

As part of his senior project, Sanchez is helping tutor Karen Hankins’ third graders in reading at nearby Gaffney Lane Elementary. Sanchez is now thinking about becoming a teaching assistant and enrolling in community college. “I decided I needed school to be somebody in the future,” he said.

About half of last year’s improvement in dropout rates is due to better tracking of students by the state, said Tony Alpert, accountability director for the state education department. He credited schools for stepping up their efforts to target students who need help.

The dropout rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, to 6.4 percent for Latino students and by 0.7 to 5.8 percent for Native Americans. Asian Americans had the lowest dropout rate at 2.6 percent and African Americans had the highest at 7 percent.

The state’s graduation rate climbed last year by nearly 3 percentage points to 84 percent, largely because of gains among Latinos and Native Americans, officials said.

Dropout rates generally fall as the economy slides because fewer students are lured away from school by work. But it is unclear whether the economy declined enough last school year to affect dropouts, Alpert said.

Principal Nancy Bush-Lange attributes much of Oregon City’s progress to a commitment by her and her administrators to aggressively track students who quit and try to lure them back. “Mostly,” she said, it is being “diligent” and “then being persistent about calling their homes or any relative.”

Chelsea Wick, 19, quit last year because she lives on her own and needed to work to support herself. Ginger Redlinger, an administrator, spotted her working at a Fred Meyer store and invited her into the Twilight program. The school gives Wick the flexibility she needs to keep her job while earning her diploma.

Cleveland High School in Portland cut its dropout rate in half to 2 percent by programs that make school more personal, said Principal Paul Cook. The school organizes freshmen into groups for core classes called academies, and academy teachers are assigned as mentors to any student who appears to be struggling.

But some of Portland’s small high schools that are designed to be personal and nurturing continue to lose students. The dropout rates for three small schools contained in the former Marshall High, for example, were 11.5 percent at BizTech High, 9.1 percent at the Pauling Academy of Integrated Sciences and 7.1 percent at Renaissance Arts Academy.

More than half of Portland’s 1,161 dropouts came from private alternative schools that have contracts with the district. Overall, the district is improving its dropout and graduation rates and redesigning its high schools, said Superintendent Carole Smith.

While fewer Oregon students left school, more settled on earning a General Educational Development (GED) credential rather than a diploma. But studies show that students with GEDs don’t earn nearly as much as those with diplomas.

The number of students earning GED credentials in the 2007-08 school year climbed by 22 percent over the previous year to 2,153. The state does not count students who earn GED credentials as high school graduates.

– Bill Graves; billgraves@news.oregonian.com

Ref: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2009/04/oregon_high_school_dropout_rat_1.html

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2 Comments on "Oregon high school dropout rate drops to lowest in a decade"

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