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High school reforms making a difference

December 12, 2012
Portland Public Schools is on track to meet the majority of goals and measures set when the school board approved major changes to the high school system in 2010, according to a comprehensive report PPS released Dec. 12.
A live-stream discussion about PPS high schools (including an ECONorthwest researcher and high school staff) was held from on Wednesday Dec. 19.
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High school forum

In January, PPS and the Portland Council PTA are hosting a public meeting for PPS leaders, parents, partners and community members to discuss our high schools and their future:

Updated Date/Time: Tuesday Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Madison High School Cafeteria, 2735 N.E. 82nd Ave.

Contacts: Scott Overton, Oregon PTA Region 2 Director, scottod@aol.com. Robb Cowie, executive director, PPS Community Involvement & Public Affairs, rcowie@pps.net

High school system changes in 2010 included school boundary changes and closing a high school for the first time in nearly 30 years.

One year into the implementation of these reforms, PPS is on track to meet 17 of 22 goals and measures: the on-time graduation rate has increased 9 percentage points, the achievement gap has narrowed and the portion of families who choose to send their students to PPS high schools is stable, and even growing.

The report, “Portland’s High School System: Update on High School System Design Implementation & Next Steps to Accelerate Progress,” also contains findings from new research conducted by ECONorthwest that compares PPS’ graduation and drop-out rates to the rest of Oregon, relative to demographic and other factors.

In addition, the report describes a set of instructionally-related “adaptive” changes to accelerate PPS’ progress in raising graduation rates. 

“We have been making difficult but necessary changes to our high school system to address glaring inequities that have led to an unacceptably low graduation rate in Portland," Superintendent Carole Smith said. "I’m encouraged by the progress our teachers, principals and community partners are making to produce better results for students, despite 4 years of declining funding. However, we know that our graduation rate remains too low and we need to accelerate our gains.”

Smith also acknowledged the personal impact that some high school students, families, teachers and principals have experienced due to resource constraints.

"I know that despite the system-level gains we are seeing, there are personal frustrations in our high schools: students who want more courses, teachers who have higher student loads and principals who are trying to meet the needs of all students, at a time when there are fewer and fewer resources to do so," Smith said.

High School System Design Report card
When the Portland School Board approved changes to PPS high schools in 2010, it directed the superintendent to report on the progress of High School System Design. At that time, 22 metrics were established (in 12 major domains) to measure the impact of the changes and the school district’s success in implementing them. Performance targets were set for both the first year of implementation (the 2011-12 school year) and full implementation (the 2014-15 school year).

Over all, PPS is: “exceeding” 4 high school system design performance targets, “meeting” 4 targets, “on track” to achieve 9 performance targets and “not on track” to achieve 5 targets.

Highlights of the goals that the school district has “exceeded,” “met” or is “on track” to accomplish, include:

• Graduation rate: The 4-year graduation rate has increased 9 percentage points since 2008-09. (At this rate, PPS high schools are projected to exceed HSSD’s 2014-15 target to improve the on-time graduation rate by 10 percentage points.)
• Achievement gap: The achievement in on-time graduation narrowed 11 points (between white and Hispanic students).
• Equitable core program: across the system, high schools now have in place 90 percent of a defined core program that is designed to offer every PPS student access to a well-rounded array of course offerings, which provide both opportunities for AP, IB or college-credit classes, as well as supports.
 Enrollment parity: PPS’ most under-enrolled schools are attracting more students and the gap between PPS’ largest and smallest comprehensive campuses has narrowed by 40 percent.
• Capture rate: PPS high schools remain the schools of choice for families living in the school district boundary.

According to the most recent US Census survey data, 88 percent of high school families enroll their students in a PPS high school. Over the next eight years, high school enrollment is projected to grow by more than 1,000 students.

Research defines opportunities for new reforms
ECONorthwest conducted a multivariate analysis of the 4-year cohort of students that comprised the class of 2011 in PPS high schools and in the rest of Oregon. According to the findings in this comparative study:

• A lower percentage of students drop-out in PPS than in the rest of Oregon. A higher percentage of PPS students complete or continue in school.
• PPS’ 4-year graduation rate of 62 percent is 4 percentage points below what would be predicted, based on the demographics of the school district’s student population.
• PPS high schools do relatively well with white students, but underperform in serving language minority students and special education students.
• 8 percent of students who obtain GEDs or a non-diploma credential meet the profile of 4-year graduates. If these students graduated on-time, PPS’ 4-year graduation rate would be 70 percent.

Focus turns to instruction
Based on the school district’s progress in implementing High School System Design, Superintendent Smith is not recommending further structural changes to PPS high schools. However, in light of the ECONorthwest findings and other data, the report identifies several instructionally-focused opportunities for “adaptive” change:

1. PPS elementary and middle grade programs need to better engage students and build skills so all students arrive at high school ready to succeed in rigorous future-focused opportunities and classes.
2. The PPS high school system should continue to focus on improving rigor, fairness and responsiveness in instruction.
3. The high school system must raise expectations and do better at matching students to the right learning environment so every student completes school with the most competitive credential he or she can obtain.
4. The high school system should continue to implement High School System Design and accelerate targets for HSSD’s major goals.
5. The high school system should leverage the recently approved school construction bond to catalyze innovative changes in teaching and learning.

Next steps
Superintendent Smith announced the formation of a new High School Action Team to determine how these changes would be incorporated across the district’s system of comprehensive, focus, alternative and charter high schools. The High School Action Team will include teachers, principals, community partners and parents.

The Portland school board will discuss High School System Design implementation at its next work session (which begins at 6:00 p.m., Dec. 17, at the school district’s main office, 501 N. Dixon Street.)

A live-stream discussion about PPS high schools (including an ECONorthwest researcher and high school staff) will be held from 12:00-1:00 p.m. ,Wednesday Dec. 19.The discussion can be viewed at www.pps.net or on Comcast channel 28. Questions can be submitted in advance or during the live-stream discussion at: highschools@pps.net


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