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Local school districts see jump in grad rates

The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t slow down the upward trend of graduation rates in Jackson County high schools, according to data released last week by the Oregon Department of Education.

The Medford School District, including its largest two high schools and Logos Public Charter School, saw another jump in the annual measurement that was made public by the ODE Thursday, as did Phoenix High School, Eagle Point High School and Ashland High School.

Continuing a steady climb out of a sub-75% mark five years ago, the Medford School District took another few steps to reach 83.4%. At 95%, Logos Public Charter School was at the top of the class locally, but North Medford High School (90.1%) and South Medford High School (89.5%) weren’t far behind. All three improved from the year before, with South Medford making the biggest gains — almost six points — following an 83.9% clip in 2019.

“We’re always pleased to see the numbers going up, and so we celebrate the hard work of students and staff, particularly given where we were at this time last year in the spring as students and staff worked hard to get final credits completed and getting kids graduated,” Medford superintendent Bret Champion said. “We’re very proud of the hard work, and don’t want to diminish that at all.”

Looking closer at the numbers reveal which cohorts made the biggest gains. MSD students with disabilities graduated at a 75% rate in 2020, a seven-point jump from the year before. And economically disadvantage students’ graduation rate increased by five points over the year before to 77%. One of the largest gains made within a single cohort occurred at South Medford, where 86% of economically disadvantaged students graduated compared to 77% the year before.

Medford’s Hispanic/Latino cohort also graduated at a higher rate in 2020, with its 82% clip representing a three-point improvement over 2019.

The 95% ranks as the best graduation rate in Logos Public Charter history. The small school (262 high school students, 1,060 total) with a new home off North Ross Lane in northwest Medford also had seven students graduate in 2020 with a combined eight Associate Degrees, according to executive director Sheryl Zimmerer.

“In a year when everyone had to adapt quickly to change,” she said in a statement, “it was inspiring how this entire class proved that when you support one another and keep your eye on the horizon with a positive attitude, you always come out on top.”

Eagle Point High and Phoenix High continued two of the most impressive graduation surges in Southern Oregon, with EPHS hitting a 92.8% four-year graduation rate only three years after 79% graduated in 2017. At Phoenix, 93% graduated in 2020 four years after a rough 75% year in 2016.

More impressive was the performance of a pair of cohorts at PHS that were struggling mightily only a few years ago — Hispanic/Latinos (300 of the school’s 677 students) and migrants (88). Hispanic/Latinos graduated at 94.4% clip in 2020 only four years after that number was 70%. Migrants made an even more dramatic jump, hitting 92% only three years after the same cohort graduated at a 62% clip.

“We’re all excited about it,” Phoenix High principal Toby Walker said. “Last year was an interesting end of the year and a challenging year, especially for seniors. Our goal at Phoenix High School is to graduate over 90% of our kids every single year. We’ve consistently improved that graduation rate over the last four years and 93 is our highest we’ve been able to accomplish in any recent history.”

Walker credited the school board, superintendent Brent Barry, and K-12 staffers with the district’s improvement. He also touted the significance of Measure 98 funds, which the district used to beef up its career and technical education offerings and hire graduation coaches. And don’t forget, added Walker the other group which has shouldered a great deal of the education load since the pandemic hit last spring.

“Last year’s parents for seniors and this year’s parents are taking much more of an active role in their students’ education because they have been in distance learning,” Walker said.

Ashland High School saw a four-point jump to hit a 94% graduation rate, including a 10-point-plus improvement to better than 95% for its economically disadvantaged population.

Central Point School District saw a 2.5% dip to a 77% graduate rate, even as its Hispanic/Latino cohort surged three points to 94.4%.

Statewide, the Class of 2020 graduated at a 82.6% clip, a nearly three-point improvement over the year before.

Casting a shadow over the numbers both locally and throughout Oregon is the unique circumstances under which they were calculated. Grades were frozen after schools were closed last March and seniors who were on track to graduate before the pandemic were awarded diplomas regardless of their academic performance down the stretch.

Champion and Walker both downplayed the significance of that move.

“I think it’s fair to say that this was a one-off year,” Champion said, “but I think it’s also completely unfair to think that our graduation rate is a result of one semester of work. This is an entire system measure of work. It’s like saying that these are just high school numbers. They’re not. These are a reflection of our system.”

Walker mostly agreed.

“I think it did help some students but I would say for us, we know our students well and this district is built on relationships,” he said. “We know our students that come through the door each day and we know our struggling students. ... Basically what it did, it took the kids who were already on track to graduate and it kind of filled that for them early. But the kids who were behind in credits still needed to complete work and meet the graduation requirements.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

The Medford School District, including its largest two high schools and Logos Public Charter School, saw another jump in the annual measurement that was made public by the state Thursday, as did Phoenix High School, Eagle Point High School and Ashland High School.