Oregonians have heard before that their graduation rates are among the lowest in the country. But some data recently compiled by the state’s Legislative Policy and Research Office may clarify why, and explain that Oregon students don’t always face a level playing field when it comes to achievement comparisons.
Additionally, the Oregon Department of Education released its statewide report card last week, examining overall numbers for many aspects of Oregon education. The report included data on graduation and dropout rates, school funding, attendance, test results and progress for students in specific demographics.
Numbers for the two reports did not always match up, and the data comparing various states was pulled from several different years. For some data points, the year was not specified.
A few months ago, State Representative Greg Smith’s office requested data from the Legislative Policy and Research Office with the hopes of understanding why Oregon’s graduation rates are suffering. They asked for a side-by-side comparison of Oregon and 10 other states: five high-performing states and five comparable Western states.
A spokesperson for Smith said although they won’t be able to act on the data until the legislative session begins, Smith wanted to take a look at what states with the highest-performing schools were doing differently from Oregon.
Against high-performing states Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont and Minnesota, and western states Colorado, Utah, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, the data showed how Oregon stacked up in eleven categories.
Among the findings:
• Oregon displayed lower scores than the other states in most categories. Oregon’s graduation rate was 72 percent, lower than all the states listed except for Nevada, at 70 percent. New Jersey’s graduation rate was highest, at 89 percent.
• Oregon had one of the shortest school years, with students in school 161 days. Only Colorado’s was shorter, at 160 days. Students in most other states listed attended for 180 days.
• Oregon had 22.18 pupils per teacher, one of the highest. Utah and Arizona had comparable ratios, while Vermont’s was the lowest, at 10.59 and new Jersey’s was 11.96.
• Oregon and Washington had the highest percentages of chronic absenteeism, at 22.7 and 24.8 percent, respectively.
• Oregon requires 24 credits to graduate, tied with New Jersey for the highest number among the states surveyed. Massachusetts and Colorado have no statewide credit requirement, and Connecticut, Vermont and Washington require 20 credits.
On the Oregon statewide report card, the ODE reported that its teacher-to-student ratio is decreasing, and was at 20.26 for 2016-2017 (average of all three school levels). It said 95 percent of its funding goes to school buildings and student services, and that it spent $11,241 per student in 2015-2016.
Data for the state report card is available at the state’s education website.
Some local educators have said while a few of the factors were comparable across states, education data tends to lump together things that can’t really be compared.
“Graduation rates are difficult to compare state-to-state because of what’s reported and what’s required for diplomas,” said InterMountain Education Service District Superintendent Mark Mulvihill. He added that some data, such as SAT scores, can be compared nationwide. But for things like chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, there are too many factors that don’t translate across state boundaries.
He said in Oregon, someone who completed high school in four years and completed 24 credits is considered a “graduate.” But someone who is credit-deficient, or completes in five years, will count against the district.
“What we consider a dropout versus what other states do counts against our graduation rates,” he said.
Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe, who has served on various statewide education boards, echoed Mulvihill’s comments.
“I think it’s great that people are really looking at this (data),” she said. “It’s difficult to have a discussion about graduation rates when the comparisons are simply not comparable.”
Sipe noted the discrepancy in the number of days of school Oregon students attend and the number of credits they’re expected to complete.
“My kids went to school one full school year less than their cousins in Washington, yet they’re expected to do more than many students in neighboring states,” she said. “The continual pattern in Oregon education is that you’re given less and you expect more.”
Sipe said considering the limited resources Oregon educators have, they performed relatively well. She cited a news release from the Oregon Department of Education in September 2016 that noted Oregon students scored between 12 and 31 points higher than the national average on each section of the SATs.
She said some of the statistics are often linked to low-income populations.
“Most of the time, high poverty schools really align with low attendance,” she said.
Mulvihill said it was important to hold Oregon schools accountable, but that some national comparisons were unfair to students.
“Some of these indicators are ‘apples to apples,’ and some are ‘apples to oranges,’” he said. “The ‘apples to apples’ are where we need to have conversations.”
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.