Graduation Rates in County Schools Continue Upward Trend
Written B: Marcia Schlottman, Klamath County School District
The graduation rate for Klamath County School District high school students increased in 2018 for the fourth year in a row and continues to exceed the state average.
According to data released Thursday, Jan. 24, by the Oregon Department of Education, the county school district’s overall four-year cohort graduation rate for 2017-18 was 79.20 percent, up 1.33 percentage points from the year before, and slightly higher than the state average of 78.65 percent.
The district’s graduation rate has consistently improved over the past several years, increasing nearly 11 percentage points between 2013-14 and 2017-18. It has remained above the state average since 2014-15.
Klamath County School District administrators were pleased with the results, pointing to an upward trend in both graduation and completer rates. Completer rates include students who also finish high school with an extended diploma or a GED. The district also outpaced the state in completer rates, posting an overall four-year rate of 86.76 percent for the 2017-18 school year. The state’s four-year completer rate average for 2017-18 was 82.53 percent.
“We have again performed above the state average in our four-year graduation rate and our four- and five-year completer rates,” said Jeff Bullock, the district’s secondary curriculum director. “Given our demographics and the challenges we face with geography, this is fantastic and continues our upward trend. I couldn’t be more pleased with the work of our high schools.”
KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak credits the district’s teachers, administrators and staff for reaching all students and improving their chances for a high school diploma.
“Our students come to us with a wide variety of life situations, ranging from those with amazingly supportive home lives to those experiencing horrific situations on a daily basis,” Szymoniak said. “Our special programs and alternative options are making extraordinary progress in reaching students with life situations or learning styles that do not match well with the traditional classroom model.”
NEARING PERFECT: Henley and Lost River
The county district has two high schools – Henley and Lost River – that rank among the state’s highest in graduation rates, graduating more than 99 and 96 percent of their students, respectively, and topping the state average by 18 to 20 percentage points.
Henley High School, for the second time in three years, graduated more than 99 percent of its students in four years. Its four-year completer rate was 100 percent. Its 2017-18 rate of 99.30 represents a 1.38 percentage point jump from 2016-17’s 97.92 rate. In 2015-16, the school also had a near perfect rate of 99.25 percent.
Lost River Junior-Senior High School Principal Jamie Ongman credited his school’s success – a 96.15 percent graduation rate in 2017-18 – to its students, parents, staff, community, and culture. The school first saw a major jump between 2015-16 and 2016-17, from 84.62 to 97.22 percent, and it maintained that rate in 2017-18.
“For us, it’s a number that speaks to the quality of instruction and the quality of students we have in the building,” Ongman said. “We want to continue to build on that by adding programs, hiring quality people and educating kids.
“We’re always looking to improve. We’re not status quo people,” he added. “It’s a goal every year to get 100 percent of our students to graduation in four years.”
From seventh-grade through their senior year, Lost River students are encouraged and provided opportunities to think about what they will do after they graduate. “We have a culture that is built on success,” he added. “Failure is a first attempt at learning so we try to reset that conversation and go again when things don’t work right. All of that tends to play into our success.”
LARGEST INCREASES: Chiloquin and Mazama
In the district, Mazama and Chiloquin high schools boasted the biggest jumps in both four-year graduation and completer rates.
Mazama’s graduation rate jumped nearly 4 percentage points to 90.44; its completer rate of 94.12 also represented a more than 4 percentage point increase.
Chiloquin saw a nearly 10 percentage point jump, increasing its graduation rate from 68.42 percent in 2016-17 to 78.62 percent in 2017-18. Its four-year completer rate increased significantly as well from 79 to 87 percent.
Scott Preston, principal at Chiloquin, said the increase in graduation numbers reflect hard work by students and staff.
“We are trying to change the culture of learning at Chiloquin Junior-Senior High School, and last year’s graduating class was the beginning of that change,” he said. “Our staff continue to work with our students to find success and help those that are struggling. We also monitor student progress regularly through the semester and review transcripts often so that we can adjust as needed.”
Chiloquin’s fluctuation in graduation rate percentages, like other small schools, is influenced by the number of students in its senior class. “Our sample size is so small that we can see a large percentage increase or decrease with just a two-student swing,” Preston said, adding that the class of 2019 is even smaller, and each student would count for 7 to 8 percent of that cohort’s graduation rate.
Steve Morosin, principal at Mazama, was pleased with his school’s 4 percentage point increase both in graduation and completer rates. But, he said, there is no magic wand to improving graduation rates. He credits the hard work of teachers, counselors and staff.
“We care about kids and track them to make sure they are moving in a positive direction,” he said. “We have two credit-recovery sections and we house the district summer school program to help students who are not staying on track.
“Other than that, it is all the teachers, counselors and staff who keep tabs on our students.”
At Mazama High School, the district focuses on the completer rate because Mazama has several district-wide programs with unique student needs. Some of these programs offer the extended diploma, which, although recognized as a four-year diploma, does not factor into graduation rates. Like a GED, extended diplomas are defined as a “completer.” Completer rates at Mazama have risen nearly 10 percentage points since 2014.
UPWARD TREND: Bonanza and Falcon Heights
Bonanza Junior-Senior High School saw its four-year graduation rate increase slightly from 86.21 percent in 2016-17 to 86.84 percent in 2017-18. Its completer rates also increased slightly from 86.21 to 88.84.
The district’s alternative high school, Falcon Heights, improved both graduation and completer rates, continuing progress made the year before.
Falcon Heights educates students who have difficulty finishing in four years or face extreme challenges at home. The typical Falcon Heights students arrives as a junior or senior, unlike in a traditional high school where class groups enter as freshmen and graduate four years later as seniors.
The school doubled its four-year graduation rate from 2016 to 2017, and continued to make gains last year, increasing its rate by 6.73 percentage points, from 14.86 in 2016-17, to 21.59 in 2017-18. Its four-year completer rate also improved, jumping from 47.30 percent to 52.27 percent.
Gilchrist Junior-Senior High School saw a 10.5 percentage point drop from 92.85 percent in 2016-17 to 82.35 in 2017-18. But the small number of students in its senior class, which averages 15 to 20, creates significant percentage changes when even one student does not graduate.
Gilchrist’s 2017-18 graduation rate, though lower than 2016-17, is still higher than the state average and higher than rates from three years prior, representing a more than 4 percentage point increase from 2015-16.
Principal Steve Prock said the school focuses on individual students, and this year added an alternative education class that helps students who have credit deficiencies or need support staying on track to graduate. The class provides a combination of online and classroom instruction and offers GED options.
“As a small school, we’re able to give a lot of individual attention to our seniors, and we’re very proud of our graduation rate the last three years,” Prock said. “It goes beyond a percentage.”
Gilchrist’s graduation and completer rates are affected when students leave the area and then don’t reenroll in school elsewhere. “When that happens that counts against us,” Prock explained. “We have no control once the student moves … if we don’t get a records request, we try to follow up and hope that student finishes school.”
Bullock, the district’s secondary curriculum director, said the district will continue to work with its schools to improve graduation and completer rates. Overall, he is pleased with the efforts.
“Graduation rates are a team effort and start in kindergarten or even before that,” he said. “Reading and math are critical, while programs like music, manufacturing, athletics, and business expand opportunities and help improve attendance. We focus on making schools a great place to be, and I think our students appreciate it.”
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Graduation Rates in County Schools Continue Upward Trend (Choose Klamath)