State audit suggests three focus areas to lift Oregon graduation rates
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
An audit by the Oregon secretary of state's office suggests ways the Oregon Department of Education can lift the graduation rate. (Photo by Blue Chalk Media)
The Oregon Department of Education could improve graduation rates by helping schools and districts focus more on three specific groups, according to the Secretary of State Audits Division.
The audits division released a report Tuesday aimed at finding ways to improve Oregon’s 75 percent high school graduation rate.
The audit noted that ODE has taken steps to improve graduation rates, including a focus on equity and absenteeism. The audit concluded ODE could do more to improve graduation rates by helping schools focus on supporting:
Students who change districts during high school; these students had a 51 percent graduation rate for 2015-16.
Students at schools with mid-range graduation rates, between 67 percent and 85 percent; nearly half of the state’s nongraduates attend these schools.
Low-income students; these students make up 70 percent of the students who don’t graduate on time.
The audit also said graduation efforts have focused on elementary schools and high schools but not given enough attention to middle schools. Research has linked middle school performance with graduation rates. Sixth-graders who failed math or English, were chronically absent or had behavior problems in a core course had roughly a 20 percent chance of graduating on time, according to the audit.
The audit listed ways ODE could better support schools, including collecting and analyzing data, implementing improvement tools, and enhancing communication with parents and the community.
Acting Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill said the audit was helpful, giving a different perspective on issues ODE was already addressing and offering new areas of focus.
Gill said some of the recommendations, such as added data collection, would have budget impacts on ODE and districts and would require legislative direction. Gill said it was important for ODE to work with districts individually to give them the supports they need most.
“Our goal is not to take these recommendations and develop a one-size-fits-all mandate, but really partnering with each district,” Gill said.
The audit examined Oregon high schools with graduation rates below 85 percent that have not improved as much as the state since the 2011-12 school year, about 40 percent of schools.
The audit notes that the Legislature has increased state funding for schools in each of the last four biennia but, when accounting for inflation, per-student funding has remained flat since the 1990s, even as the cost of education has gone up. The $8.2 billion State School Fund is $1.8 billion short of the amount the Quality Education Commission says is needed for 2017-19 for a system of highly effective schools, the audit noted.