Two-thirds of students at Portland Public Schools’ main high schools – the nine neighborhood campuses, Benson Polytechnic High School and Metropolitan Learning Center – graduated in four years, according to the latest state report for the class of 2009.
However, with almost 1,000 additional PPS students attending alternative, charter and special education schools, the graduation rate
for PPS drops to 53 percent, the state reported. The statewide rate is 66 percent.
This is the first year the Oregon Department of Education is using a new method of measuring school and district graduation success. Previously, the state used one year’s data on graduates and dropouts to calculate a “synthetic” four-year graduation rate. This year, the state essentially tracked the students who entered ninth grade in 2005 (the class of 2009) and those who joined the class in higher grades to find out the outcome for each individual student.
This echoes pioneering research done first for the PPS class of 2004, designed to measure why and when students leave school, and how best to intervene to prevent dropouts.
"This level of detail is invaluable," Superintendent Carole Smith said. "It reaffirms our work to design a high school system that better meets the needs of all students, and it shows us that every school has room for improvement."
Counting even those students who never attended one of PPS’ regular campuses, just over half of the class of 2009 graduated in four years with a standard high school diploma. Another 7 percent remained enrolled in school for a fifth year, still working toward graduation. One in five earned an alternative credential or a modified diploma designed for special education students. And finally, 20 percent dropped out or finished their senior year without credits needed for graduation.
Graduation rates varied widely among different populations of students, with girls more likely to graduate than boys, 58 percent to 49 percent, and students with greater family resources much more likely to graduate than those from lower income homes, 60 percent to 45 percent.
The graduation gap by race is starker: Asian and white students graduated in far higher rates than their black, Hispanic and Native American classmates. Districtwide, 31 percent of Hispanic students graduated in four years, half the graduation rate of white students. Students learning English in the class of 2009 were less than half as likely to graduate on time as their English-speaking peers, 27 percent to 57 percent.
Student outcomes were attributed to the most recent of the PPS operated or chartered schools they attended. Those who attended a neighborhood school, but eventually dropped out from a community-based alternative school, were counted as the neighborhood school’s dropout. Students returning to their home neighborhood school from a transfer school before dropping out would count against the neighborhood school, no matter where they started high school.
Graduation rates vary significantly among schools, reflecting not only the success of their programs but also the schools’ population. Only two PPS schools have higher graduation rates than the district as a whole, and smaller achievement gaps based on race or family income: Benson and Franklin high schools.