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Medford's grad rate jumps

Boosted in part by intervening earlier with students who have fallen behind, Medford School District posted nearly a 10 percent increase in its graduation rate in 2015 over the previous year.

The district's overall graduation rate for its four high schools was 74.95 percent, up from 65.2 percent in 2014.

Oregon’s high school graduation rate also came in at the highest it has been since the state began its current method of tracking students seven years ago, according to data released today by the Oregon Department of Education. In 2014-15, 74 percent of students statewide earned a diploma or modified diploma on time, compared with 72 percent in 2013-14.

Medford's graduation figures earned it specific recognition in an ODE press release sent out announcing the latest results.

"While graduation rates for large district tend to change slowly, Medford saw a ten percent one-year increase ...," the release noted.

 “Medford is using things that research shows works,” said Salam Noor, Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction.

North Medford High School raised its four-year graduation rate by 7.1 percent, South Medford High School by 5.25 percent, Central Medford High School by 9.26 percent and Logos Public Charter School by 39.9 percent.

“This is a victory for the entire district,” Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate said Tuesday, prior to the results being officially released.

Other local districts also have reason to celebrate. Ashland’s graduation rate increased nearly 3 percentage points, Phoenix-Talent’s by nearly 7 percent, Eagle Point’s by nearly 7 percent, Central Point’s by about 4 percent, Rogue River’s by 14 percent and Butte Fall’s by 19 percent.

Logos’ Executive Director Joe VonDoloski said the charter school has been dinged in the past by students who left the school to be home-schooled but didn’t notify the state and, as a result, were reflected in the charter school’s graduation rate.

Now the school follows through with those student to make sure they are set up elsewhere, VonDoloski said.

“Now, we don’t just say, ‘Good luck,’ ” he said.

The school also has worked hard to create a “culture of graduation” by investing in summer school, awarding teacher bonuses based on the graduation rate within their case loads, taking students on college field trips, educating parents on college options and expectations, and identifying struggling students earlier in their high school careers, VonDoloski said.

“We don’t anticipate going below 90 percent ever again,” he said.

Because of the size of its cohort, Logos’ increase accounted for about 1.15 percent of the district’s almost 10 percent increase, Shumate said.

Shumate and School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas emphasized the district's use of data in identifying identify kids who are struggling and getting them support sooner.

High schools are now actively monitoring freshmen’s credit acquisition to ensure they are on track to graduate and sending attendance reports to teachers every 20 school days.

“I’m giving them more data than they’ve ever had, and a lot of times all you need to do is put the data in front of somebody and the story writes itself,” Shumate said.

“Now, we’re giving tools directly to the buildings so they have the ability to intervene faster,” Thomas added.

Medford's improvement also included a 15 percent increase in its Latino graduation rate, a 22 percent increase in its migrant graduation rate and a nearly 11 percent increase in graduation of economically disadvantaged students.

Terri Dahl, the district's supervisor of federal programs and school improvement, said the district changed some of its programming about three years ago.

“Our team met and developed a plan that targeted equity, student achievement, graduation rates, professional development and parent outreach,” Dahl said. “It was the combination of many initiatives … and I think that over time it’s really impacted the English language learners and the academic success of our Latino students.”

Changes included increasing professional development for ELL teachers, purchasing new software that provides differentiated reading and writing instruction, expanding its migrant education program, creating weekly parent outreach events, and hiring content-area ELL specialists, to name a few, Dahl said.

Some minorities with much smaller numbers, such as African Americans and American Indians, saw a decrease in their graduation rate in 2015.

Sixteen more white students earned a diploma in 2015 than in 2014.

Thomas said past stereotypes were off-base about which types of students were graduating and which weren't. White students in 2014 graduated at about a 69 percent rate; that number increased to just over 78 percent in 2015.

“The perception in the community has been that all the white kids were graduating and that we were failing everybody else,” he said. “But we were even failing white kids.”

“But the leadership has come in and said, ‘We are going to change the culture. Failure is no longer an option.’ ” he said.

As a whole, the district has become much more adaptive to the needs of kids, Shumate said.

“Teachers, principals and counselors did some amazing things to get kids across the stage,” he said. “We tried to sell all seniors on the idea that it’s important for them to graduate on time.”

Shumate said that with the implementation of all-day kindergarten, a district after-school program and other changes, as well as the district’s investment in reducing class sizes, he fully expects to meet the board’s goal of having an 80 percent graduation rate by 2017.

State officials won’t know until next fall how Oregon’s graduation rate compares with that of other states. In 2014, the state's graduation rate ranked fourth worst in the nation, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Education.

However, national comparisons are tricky because not all states have the same methodology or graduation requirements, Greene said.

“The best thing we can do is identify, highlight and share best practices,” Noor said.

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

Solomon Jornelu, 14, participates Wednesday in a group exercise during a class at North Medford High School. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch