Graduation rates for 2014-2015 released by the Oregon Department of Education this week are a mix of good news and bad news for local districts.

The good news: Eight of Umatilla and Morrow county’s 12 school districts are above the state average and two more are equal to it.

The bad news: Six districts’ graduation rates decreased from the year before and two more stayed the same. Only Pendleton, Hermiston, Stanfield and Ione saw a better graduation rate than the previous class.

Morrow County School District superintendent Dirk Dirksen said he couldn’t say for sure why rates had decreased, but did point out that many area districts have very small graduating classes. As a result, they are subject to an “ebb and flow” created by the fact that a single student’s failure to graduate represents several percentage points in the graduation rate.

“You really have to look at it over a five-year period,” he said.

Morrow County’s rate went from 83 percent to 74, staying in line with the state average of 74 percent. Dirksen said 11 of the students who did not graduate with their class are still in school working toward a diploma.

He said he was pleased to see that several subgroups that are traditionally under-served — including special education students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students — were graduating from Morrow County School District at levels well above the state average for those same groups.

Still, he said, there was always more work to be done.

“I’m never going to be pleased completely until we’re at 100 percent,” he said.

The “graduation rate” most talked about each year is the four-year cohort rate, which counts the number of students who received a regular diploma within four years of starting high school. But the state report also measures graduation rates in other ways. A five-year cohort rate includes students who took an extra year to finish school, while five-year and four-year “completer” rates add in students who earned a GED or modified diploma.

The state’s report also breaks graduation rates down by school and by subgroup, including gender, race, disability, economic status, English proficiency, talented and gifted status and whether the student is considered a migrant.

One of the districts that did increase the number of students graduating with a regular diploma after four years was Pendleton School District.

Assistant superintendent Tricia Mooney said the district was happy to see the increase from 72 percent to 75.

“We did see improvements in graduation rates and we’re excited about that,” she said. “It’s the result of hard work by staff and students.”

She said the district would continue to work to improve the rate. One promising development is a recent grant to create the Pendleton Technology and Trades Center at West Hills School, which Mooney said would be another tool for helping keep students engaged in their education. Another is a grant for the Tribal Attendance Pilot Program, where the district will work in conjunction with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to reduce absenteeism for Native American students.

Hermiston School District’s four-year graduation rate went from 68 percent in 2013-2014 to 69 percent last year.

The numbers looked much better for Hermiston High School, which graduated 87 percent of the class of 2015 on time with a regular diploma. But the Innovative Learning Center — the district’s alternative school for students struggling with the structure of Hermiston High School — had a four-year cohort rate of 8 percent. Reflecting the nature of alternative schools, however, 48 percent of Innovative Learning Center students did earn a GED or diploma after five years of high school.

That figure, along with Hermiston High School students who took an extra year to graduate or earned a GED, bumps Hermiston School District’s five-year completer rate up to 78 percent, just below Pendleton’s 79 percent and Oregon’s 82 percent.

At the state level, leaders applauded the statewide increase of on-time graduations from 72 percent to 74.

“While our graduation rate is far from where we want and need it to be, this increase means we are headed in the right direction and is truly something to celebrate,” Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor said in a statement.

To help increase graduation rates further, Gov. Kate Brown recently announced the creation of an “education innovation officer” position. The officer will be tasked with traveling around the state to gather information on what is working to increase graduation rates and spreading that information to other school districts.

To read the full data set on each school district’s graduation rates, visit


Contact Jade McDowell at or 541-564-4536.

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