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Some gains, some losses

Oregon’s 2014, four-year graduation rate is the highest it's been in six years, according to data released today by the Department of Education.

The state improved its graduation rate about 3 percent, from 68.7 percent in 2013 to 72 percent in 2014, bringing the state slightly closer to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s goal of having a 100 percent high school graduation rate by 2025.

Locally, both North and South Medford high schools’ four-year graduation rates exceeded the state average in 2014. However, Medford School District’s four-year graduation rate dropped, from 67.3 percent in 2013 to 65.2 percent in 2014, despite a nearly 4 percent increase at Central Medford High School and a nearly 2 percent increase at North Medford High School.

Currently, the district’s graduation rate places it in the bottom 25 percent of districts statewide.

South’s four-year graduation rate dropped from 84.9 percent in 2013 to 77.8 percent last year, though it still has the highest rate in the district. Principal Kevin Campbell said the school is always assessing its interventions and, in recent years, has been able to raise its writing and math scores “significantly.”

“At South, there was a group of kids who just had more to overcome, and we are very proud of that class,” said Todd Bloomquist, Medford’s director of secondary education. “And more will finish up this next year and be counted in the five-year graduation rate.”

At Central Medford High School, an additional nine students were able to graduate in 2014 thanks to the school’s summer interventions, said Bloomquist.

As part of its board goals, the Medford School District aims at having an 80 percent graduation rate by 2017, a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 and, per the governor’s instructions, a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency because we want all our kids to graduate and move successfully on to the next step,” said Bloomquist.

“And as we start doing more interventions, we’ll begin to see the impact of those, but that will take a couple years,” he added.

Over the next five years, Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate intends to implement a new “pathways” concept in which students declare a “major” before entering high school and then pursue that area of interest over their high school career.

“I’m trying to create a different school experience where kids come to school and are connected with something in the school,” Shumate said.

Students could choose from academic, artistic, career-tech and pre-professional pathways and get involved in co-curricular activities.

Shumate said he is assessing what the district currently has to offer and, in the meantime, the graduation rates “show us the work we have in front of us.”

In addition to Central and North Medford high schools, Phoenix High School, Ashland High School and Central Point’s Crater Renaissance Academy and Crater Academy of Health and Public Services experienced gains in their four-year graduation rates.

Phoenix High’s graduation rate increased nearly 4 percent since 2013, which Principal Jani Hale credits to the collaborative efforts of staff and the use of data to inform decisions.

“It’s the systems that a school puts in place that ensure that everyone is on the same page, no one is left behind and we’re not duplicating services,” Hale said.

Not only did the school increase its graduation rate but also nearly closed the achievement gap. In 2014, it boasted an 84.1 percent graduation rate for white students and an 83.6 percent graduation rate for Latino students. In some other districts, the graduation rate for Latino students was between 9 and 18 percent less than the graduation rate for white students.

“Now our job is to sustain our work and continue,” Hale said. “And that’s a challenge.”

In Eagle Point, the high school had a 73.1 percent graduation rate but the district average was brought down to 56.1 percent because its alternative school, the Upper Rogue Center for Educational Opportunities, had a 0 percent graduation rate. But Eagle Point Human Resources Director Allen Barber warns that URCEO’s graduation rate doesn't “tell the whole story.”

“We send kids there to get back on track or to take their GED,” he said. “We want them to come back and finish at the high school either in their fourth or fifth year.”

Nevertheless, the district doesn't want to make excuses for its graduation rates, Barber said.

“We didn't want to drop seven points, but we are happy that we’re above the state average,” he said.

Oregon's graduation rate is its highest since before 2008-09, when the state adopted its current reporting methodology.

Last year was the first year the state recognized modified diplomas in the four-year graduation rate. Previously, students earning modified diplomas were counted as “completers” rather than graduates.

Also new in 2013-14, the state started counting students who had met the requirements for a diploma — even if they had not received it — in the four-year graduation rate. Deputy State Superintendent Rob Saxton said in a news release that the new method for calculating graduation rates lends itself to a “clearer, more accurate, and complete picture of how many students our schools are helping to reach this important milestone.”

As a result of these changes, an additional 1,800 students were counted in the 2014 four-year cohort.

In 2013, of the 49 states that submitted their high school graduation rates, Oregon ranked No. 49, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Education. 

However, educators statewide contend that Oregon’s 2013 graduation rate does not reflect modified diplomas, which were counted in the graduation rates of many other states, nor does it take into account that Oregon requires more credits to graduate than many other states.

 Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Dillon Cavanaugh, left, Sam Datz, Brogan Guthrie, Maverick Whetstone and Kathryn Zentgraf play saxophones during band class at Phoenix High School Wednesday. Phoenix High School has raised its graduation rate to 83.3 percent. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Katie Mena, 18, works on an essay for a scholarship application at Phoenix High School Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch