Pendleton High School students walk between classes during a passing period on Tuesday afternoon.

PENDLETON — The Pendleton School District grades its students all year, but on Tuesday morning, it took a chance to grade itself.

At a Pendleton School Board workshop, Superintendent Chris Fritsch shared an update on the district’s strategic plan.

The plan is organized around four goals — “providing instructional excellence,” meeting student needs, implementing innovative practices, and promoting “The Pendleton Brand” — but what the board and Fritsch focused on was the statistics the district is using to gauge how well it’s carrying out those goals.

Many updated stats are still being collected for the 2018-19 school year, but the early returns are promising: Most scores in English language arts and math have improved from 2017-18.

But there are also a few statistics that are causing concern for district staff.

The percentage of ninth-graders on track for graduation, which measures how many students have obtained six credits by the end of their freshman year, fell by more than 10 points to 73.9%

Pendleton High School Principal Melissa Sandven said the low rate is a concern for high school staff, and members have already met to discuss how to solve it.

Sandven said data teams have been assembled for each grade to better track students that are falling behind.

With extra support given to struggling students, Sandven said the high school staff’s goal is to raise the 2019-20 group of freshmen’s on-track rate to 90% with the eventual goal that every student will be set for graduation by the end of their junior year.

The high school is also adapting to the way students are learning.

While the number of elementary school students taking online courses is negligible, and only a few dozen middle school students are following suit, the sum of high schoolers enrolled and passing online courses more than doubled in 2018-19.

Not including Nixyaawii Community School, more than one in four district high school students took online courses.

Sandven said the surge is due to several reasons, including students seeking online courses that don’t fit into their regular schedule or the high schools don’t offer, and students enrolled in credit retrieval classes.

But Sandven said another big driver of online enrollee growth is Hawthorne Alternative High School.

Instead of a more traditional class, Sandven said a Hawthorne math class might feature students simultaneously taking online classes at varying skill levels, with a teacher present to help as needed.

Sandven said improving Hawthorne, which has typically featured subpar graduation rates, has been a priority for her staff.

“That’s the program that will keep them in school,” she said.

The district is also making an effort to keep students at all levels engaged in their education, and students are unafraid to critique the district if it isn’t.

Matt Yoshioka, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the district has spent the past few years issuing a “school climate survey” to parents, students and staff to get their opinions on the school’s performance.

More than 1,200 students grades 4-12 took the survey last spring, and they gave the district plaudits in some areas.

In the era of school shootings, two-thirds of students said they “feel safe at school,” which was an increase from the year before. Large majorities of students also felt like teachers and staff cared about them and were invested in their success.

But the percentage of students who agreed that teachers do more than “talking in front of the class when teaching them” fell.

In a similar vein, the share of students who consider schoolwork “useful and interesting” fell well below half.

Yoshioka said administrators are already working with teachers on student engagement, but he added that his department may also need to analyze the curriculum to make sure its connecting with students.

At the board meeting, Fritsch said the data the district is compiling for the strategic plan could have a wider impact.

With the passage of the Student Success Act, the state is currently devising how to keep districts accountable for the extra funds they’re due to receive.

While the district is mostly concerned with statistically significant growth, Fritsch said the state may require certain standards, like the ninth-grader on track for graduation figure to rise by a certain amount in order to maintain funding.

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