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Grads meet the pandemic challenge

Local school districts saw an increase in graduation rates during pandemic
North Medford 2021 graduates look for friends and family in the stadium after walking the stage and receiving their diplomas. Photo by Denise Baratta

Almost every public school district in the Rogue Valley saw an increase in recent on-time graduation rates — at a time “unlike any other our state has ever faced,” Oregon’s Department of Education director said Thursday.

The trend and other data can be seen in the annual “At-A-Glance” profiles the ODE released of schools and districts throughout the state. ODE Director Colt Gill said his agency will use the data to “better invest and serve students,” including providing more resources to help students graduate.

On the graduation front, all but two of the valley’s districts increased the number of students graduating on time in the 2019-20 school year compared to 2018-19. During the 2020 school year, many districts switched to virtual instruction to keep the K-12 community safe from contracting COVID-19.

Butte Falls, a charter school, saw the biggest increase in students graduating on time. For the 2019-20 school year, its graduation rate was 94% compared to 2018-19, when it was 65%.

Rogue River and Central Point were the only two school districts in the valley that saw declines in graduation rates. Rogue River went from 78% to 74%, while Central Point dipped from 80% to 78%.

Central Point Superintendent Walt Davenport acknowledged the graduation rate did go down, but noted his district traditionally performs at or near state averages.

”While the instant go-to factor’ is the COVID-19 impact on our schools for the 2020-2021 report, it does not excuse us from taking a hard look at all our practices and programs to make sure we are meeting students' needs,“ he wrote in an email to the newspaper. ”This year, we have made some adjustments at our High School campus that will allow students more choice, flexibility and access to classes / credit options through closer alignment of the 3 school schedules and grading periods.“

A spokesman with the Oregon Department of Education noted the most recent data does not include statistics from the 2020-21 school year because the federal government always asks districts for information before the most recent graduation data is released.

Phoenix-Talent

As a whole, the Phoenix-Talent School District’s on-time graduation rate saw no increase, standing at 85% during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years

Superintendent Brent Barry said the best barometer of the on-time graduation rate is examining Phoenix High School alone, since it is the district’s only high school. From 2018-19 through 2019-20, Phoenix saw a 1% increase, from 92% to 93%.

“For what the last year has presented itself, and then the compacting factor of the Almeda fire, the on-time graduation rate of Phoenix High School … is really nothing short of remarkable and a tremendous effort,” Barry said. “We look at this data all the time, so it’s not surprising, but it makes you feel proud when these things come out in the public, because the public doesn’t know that number.”

Barry also cited the on-track graduation rate, at 87% compared to the statewide average of 74%, as notable.

“If we know they’re on-track their freshman year, the likelihood of them graduating on-time is very, very good,” he said. “We have a 24-credit diploma, and if they earn six credits throughout the freshman year, that considers them on-track.”

Referring to on-track students, Barry added, “it is so important for kids to get engaged and connected to school their freshman year to be able to be successful.”

Medford

Medford School District saw an on-time graduation rate increase of three percentage points, up to 83%, for 2018-19 to 2019-20 school years.

Although it’s the statistic “everyone pays the most attention to,” said Kevin Campbell, executive director of teaching and learning for the district, the five-year graduation rates are what he believes paint a “more accurate picture.”

“A more accurate picture of meeting students where they’re at and putting a plan together for them that gets them the diploma,” Campbell said. “The goal is the diploma. If they need an extra year, that’s not a bad thing.”

North Medford High School’s on-time graduation rate increased one percentage point, to 90%.

South Medford High School’s on-time graduation rate rose six percentage points, from 84% to 90%.

“We are in the process of studying, I’m going to call it ‘the art of graduation,’ at all of our schools, but definitely North and South are involved,” Campbell said. “Both of those administrative teams and teaching teams take lot of pride in how they do.”

But Medford always wants to do more to increase the rates, he added. In fact, the district’s goal is to get the graduation rate up to 93% in four years. Campbell knows it’s possible because district officials have “anecdotally” looked at its stats.

“We’re going to have to align our efforts at every transition and every pitch point where students run into barriers,” he said. “It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a worthy goal, but it’s one we’re intending to meet.”

Eagle Point

When it comes to students graduating on-time, Eagle Point saw a significant increase, from 74% to 83%, over 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Superintendent Andy Kovach said that uptick is in line with an increasing trend of students graduating over the last several years. Four years ago, the district’s graduation rate was just 65%.

“It’s not the result of any one person, any one program,” he said. “It’s been a lot of people involved, keeping the focus on this issue for many years.”

Kovach has been in charge of the district since the start of the pandemic. Before that, he was principal of the high school.

“We’ve been very detailed, very systematic,” he said. “We spend an awful lot of time looking at the data — not just at the end of the school year, but during this time, now, reviewing individual students and looking at their progress. We’re advising interventions to get them around; we’re providing programs to help them move forward.”

Taking this systematic approach into the pandemic, Kovach said the district was “blessed” to have technology to carry out an alternative learning approach.

“It wasn’t simple, but we had a leg up on many school districts around the state,” he said.

Eagle Point High School Principal Heather Marinucci said she believes the positive trends in graduation are just “one piece” of her institution’s success.

“We’re not finished yet and we still have things on our agenda,” she said. “We want to get to that place where it’s a success story, but the work is never done.”

On-time graduation rates in the Rogue Valley, 2019-20

Ashland High School - 94%

Butte Falls Charter School - 94%

Crater Academy of Health & Public Services - 71%

Crater School of Business Innovation Science - 84%

Crater Renaissance Academy - 80%

Eagle Point High School - 93%

North Medford High School - 90%

South Medford High School - 90%

Central Medford High - 49%

Logos Public Charter School - 95%

Phoenix High School - 93%

Prospect Charter School - 78%

Rogue River Jr/Sr High - 78%

Rivers Edge Academy Charter - 82%