Graduation rate falls to 80.6% but stays above pre-pandemic level
Thursday, January 20, 2022
Oregon’s statewide four-year graduation rate for 2020-21 fell slightly after a year of wildly different education experiences.
The state average dropped 2 percentage points to 80.6%, according to data released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education. But that number hides some important caveats, and ODE officials encouraged reporters this week to talk to their local districts to get a clearer picture.
Educators agree that in-person learning is the best way for most students to progress academically, but Oregon school districts offered models that ranged from nearly the whole year in person to hybrids with minimal classroom time. A rate drop this year was expected as students struggled with distance learning and became disengaged.
The record 2019-20 rate of 82.6% measured the school year shortened by COVID-19 in which students who were on track in the final quarter were allowed to graduate.
The 2020-21 rate was higher than the 80% in 2018-19, the last pandemic-free year. Oregon has among the nation’s lowest graduation rates but also some of its most stringent graduation requirements. Graduation requirements were unchanged last year except for dropping the requirement to prove essential skills.
An increase last year in failing grades at all high school levels suggests challenging times ahead as students try to catch up to the 24-credit requirement. The recent omicron surge causing vast numbers of students to be quarantined or shifted to distance learning will likely compound the problem.
For 2020-21, the graduation rate fell for every student group. For all underserved races/ethnicities, the graduation rate fell 2.5 percentage points, according to ODE data, but some historically underserved groups’ rates remain higher than 2018-19.
School leaders have been especially concerned about equity, as distance learning falls harder on students who lack internet access, a good at-home learning environment or adults available to help.
Notably, the rates for two groups considered higher risk for not receiving an equitable education fell less than the state average. The graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students fell 0.6 percentage point to 77% and the rate for English learners in high school fell 0.2 percentage point to 64.4%
Oregon’s five-year completer rate, a broader measure of school goal attainment, increased to 87.8% for 2020-21. The rate, however, typically lags the four-year graduation rate, and ODE officials said it would likely fall next year.
ODE also released dropout data Thursday, but the information was not comparable to past years because ODE had a much more lenient definition of dropout last year.