High school graduation rate improves by more than 4 percent

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home’s high school graduation rate has increased over the past year.

Of Sweet Home students who were freshmen in 2013-14, 71.69 percent graduated in 2016, an improvement of more than 4 percent from the year before.

Approximately 5 percent more students completed an alternative certificate, including modified diplomas or GED certificates. The total number of these students and those receiving diplomas is 76.71 percent for 2015-16. This is called the “completer rate.”

The state’s four-year graduation rate was 74.83 percent last year. The state had a completer rate of 78.11 percent.

The Oregon Department of Education released the figures Thursday, Jan. 26.

Additionally, statewide, the dropout rate for 2015-16 was 3.93 percent, down from 4.26 percent the previous year, while SHHS had a lower dropout rate, 3.76 percent, down from 6.32 percent the year prior.

In 2015, SHHS graduated 67.23 percent of students who started high school in 2012-13. The school had a 69.49 percent completer rate. Statewide, the four-year graduation rate was 73.82 percent, with a completer rate of 76.75 percent.

“We’re up,” said Principal Ralph Brown. “I’m proud of my kids.”

Brown cautions that he’s always cautiously optimistic, though.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know some (individual) classes are high-flying classes,” Brown said, but the trend appears to be that the graduation rate is moving upward.

While the Access College Today program affected the statistics a couple of years ago, creating an illusion of a graduation rate that fell to less than 50 percent, Brown said the rate appears to be genuinely on the upswing.

In 2008-09, the rate was around 60 percent, he said. The statewide four-year graduation rate was 66.2 percent that year, and SHHS had a four-year graduation rate of 60.7 percent.

While he’s tentative about calling it, “it feels like there’s an upward trend,” Brown said, but it’s not good enough.

“I’m always real competitive,” Brown said, and the state average is still higher than Sweet Home’s.

“We’re not at what I consider our base,” said Brown, who became principal at Sweet Home at the start of the 2015-16 school year after serving 12 years as principal at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater. “We’ve got some work to do.”

Throughout his career, he has always watched other districts, and when schools in those districts were doing better, he wanted to know why and try to beat those statistics, he said.

In Linn County last year, Albany had a four-year graduation rate of 86.87 percent and a completer rate of 91.79 percent. Lebanon had a four-year graduation rate of 70.54 percent and a completer rate of 74.79 percent. Central Linn School District had a four-year graduation rate of 74 percent.

Among Sky-Em school districts, Sisters had a graduation rate of 86.4 percent and a completer rate of 88 percent; Junction City, 82.08 percent graduation and 84.97 percent completer; Elmira, 77.66 percent graduation and 80.85 percent completer; South Lane, which includes Cottage Grove, 72.59 percent graduation and 78.89 percent completer; and Sutherlin, 68.7 percent graduation and 72.17 completer.

In the wake of recent low state assessment scores, Supt. Tom Yahraes has initiated several new efforts to improve student achievement in academics and other areas. Among them is curriculum alignment across the district, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Brown and the high school staff have their own efforts under way as well. Brown noted that SHHS has had a relatively high turnover among teachers in recent years. He has put together a team to work on teacher retention, and his teachers are heavily involved in the curriculum alignment efforts.

Staff members are also working on ways to get more college credit and certifications available to students through Linn-Benton Community College, he said.

“The High School is doing a great job reaching our kids,” Yahraaes said. “And they don’t give up on our students.”

For those at risk of failing, the high school pulls them back into school so they don’t drop out, Yahraes said.

The school’s “career and technical education” students did really well in the report, Yahraes said, noting that among participants, 80 percent graduated and for those concentrating in those classes, which include programs like construction trades and metal shop, 89.39 percent graduated, even higher performance than the school as a whole.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “I’m really tickled the trend appears to be moving up. I’m thankful to my kids, staff and my parents. We’re in a good place, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”