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Local school districts saw an increase in graduation rates during pandemic

North Medford 2021 graduates look for friends and family in the stadium after walking the stage and receiving their diplomas. Medford School District saw an on-time graduation rate increase of three percentage points, up to 83%, for the 2020-21 school year compared to 2019-20. Photo by Denise Baratta

Almost every public school district in the Rogue Valley saw an increase this year in on-time graduation rates — at a time “unlike any other our state has ever faced,” Oregon’s Department of Education director said Thursday.

The trend and other data can be seen in the annual “At-A-Glance” profiles the ODE released of schools and districts throughout the state. ODE Director Colt Gill said his agency will use the data to “better invest and serve students,” including providing more resources to help students graduate.

On the graduation front, all but two of the valley’s districts increased the number of students graduating on time in the 2020-21 school year compared to 2019-20, when the pandemic shut down many school systems to in-person learning and switched to virtual instruction.

Butte Falls, a charter school, saw the biggest increase in students graduating on time. Last year, its graduation rate was 94% compared to 2019-20, when it was 65%.

Rogue River and Central Point were the two school districts in the valley that saw declines in graduation rates. Rogue River went from 78% to 74%, while Central Point dipped from 80% to 78%.

Phoenix-Talent

As a whole, the Phoenix-Talent School District’s on-time graduation rate saw no increase, standing at 85% both school years.

Superintendent Brent Barry said the best barometer of the on-time graduation rate is examining Phoenix High School alone, since it is the district’s only high school. Year-over-year, Phoenix saw a 1% increase, from 92% to 93% from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

“For what the last year has presented itself, and then the compacting factor of the Almeda fire, the on-time graduation rate of Phoenix High School … is really nothing short of remarkable and a tremendous effort,” Barry said. “We look at this data all the time, so it’s not surprising, but it makes you feel proud when these things come out in the public, because the public doesn’t know that number.”

Barry also cited the on-track graduation rate, at 87% compared to the statewide average of 74%, as notable.

“If we know they’re on-track their freshman year, the likelihood of them graduating on-time is very, very good,” he said. “We have a 24-credit diploma, and if they earn six credits throughout the freshman year, that considers them on-track.”

Referring to on-track students, Barry added, “it is so important for kids to get engaged and connected to school their freshman year to be able to be successful.”

Medford

Medford School District saw an on-time graduation rate increase of three percentage points, up to 83%, for the 2020-21 school year compared to 2019-20.

Although it’s the statistic “everyone pays the most attention to,” said Kevin Campbell, executive director of teaching and learning for the district, the five-year graduation rates are what he believes paint a “more accurate picture.”

“A more accurate picture of meeting students where they’re at and putting a plan together for them that gets them the diploma,” Campbell said. “The goal is the diploma. If they need an extra year, that’s not a bad thing.”

North Medford High School’s on-time graduation rate increased one percentage point, to 90%, from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

South Medford High School’s on-time graduation rate rose six percentage points, from 84% to 90% over the same time period.

“We are in the process of studying, I’m going to call it ‘the art of graduation,’ at all of our schools, but definitely North and South are involved,” Campbell said. “Both of those administrative teams and teaching teams take lot of pride in how they do.”

But Medford always wants to do more to increase the rates, he added. In fact, the district’s goal is to get the graduation rate up to 93% in four years. Campbell knows it’s possible because district officials have “anecdotally” looked at its stats.

“We’re going to have to align our efforts at every transition and every pitch point where students run into barriers,” he said. “It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a worthy goal, but it’s one we’re intending to meet.”

Eagle Point

When it comes to students graduating on-time, Eagle Point saw a significant increase, from 74% to 83%, over the last two years.

Superintendent Andy Kovach said that uptick is in line with an increasing trend of students graduating over the last several years. Four years ago, the district’s graduation rate was just 65%.

“It’s not the result of any one person, any one program,” he said. “It’s been a lot of people involved, keeping the focus on this issue for many years.”

Kovach has been in charge of the district since the start of the pandemic. Before that, he was principal of the high school.

“We’ve been very detailed, very systematic,” he said. “We spend an awful lot of time looking at the data — not just at the end of the school year, but during this time, now, reviewing individual students and looking at their progress. We’re advising interventions to get them around; we’re providing programs to help them move forward.”

Taking this systematic approach into the pandemic, Kovach said the district was “blessed” to have technology to carry out an alternative learning approach.

“It wasn’t simple, but we had a leg up on many school districts around the state,” he said.

Eagle Point High School Principal Heather Marinucci said she believes the positive trends in graduation are just “one piece” of her institution’s success.

“We’re not finished yet and we still have things on our agenda,” she said. “We want to get to that place where it’s a success story, but the work is never done.”

On-time graduation rates in the Rogue Valley, 2020-21

Ashland High School – 94%

Butte Falls Charter School – 94%

Crater Academy of Health & Public Services – 71%

Crater School of Business Innovation Science – 84%

Crater Renaissance Academy – 80%

Eagle Point High School – 93%

North Medford High School – 90%

South Medford High School – 90%

Central Medford High – 49%

Logos Public Charter School – 95%

Phoenix High School – 93%

Prospect Charter School – 78%

Rogue River Jr/Sr High – 78%

Rivers Edge Academy Charter – 82%

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