The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has prioritized improving four-year graduation rates in recent years. The Secretary of State Audits Division found ODE could make further progress by helping schools and districts focus on specific groups, such as students who transfer between districts, low-income students, and middle school students. ODE can also better help districts and schools use effective improvement tools, use data to identify students in danger of not graduating, and communicate the importance of graduation to parents and the community.
One in four Oregon public high school students does not graduate on time. Current steps to boost on-time graduation rates include plans to reduce chronic absenteeism, prevent students from dropping out, increase access to college-level courses in high school, and increase career-technical education.
The purpose of the audit was to determine how ODE and school districts could increase four-year graduation rates in Oregon’s public high schools.
Through school visits, interviews, data analysis, and document reviews, we found that:
- Students who changed districts during high school – more than a quarter of all high school students – had graduation rates roughly 30% lower than students who did not. ODE does not analyze or report graduation performance for these students.
- Schools with mid-range graduation rates – 67%-85% – receive limited improvement support from ODE, though most non-graduates attend these schools.
- More than 70% of students who do not graduate on time are low-income. ODE should assess the need for services to help those students succeed.
- The Legislature and ODE has not emphasized middle school performance or student transitions from middle school to high school, though students who struggle in middle school are already at risk of not graduating.
- ODE does not track student grades or specific credits attained, data the agency could use to help more students graduate.
- ODE should improve its internal communications and help districts and schools communicate the importance of graduation to parents and the community.
The report includes recommendations to the Oregon Department of Education on additional efforts it could take to increase on-time graduation rates. Among them: focusing on specific student groups, supporting coordination between middle schools and high schools, collecting more detailed student data, and helping districts better use improvement tools.
The Oregon Department of Education generally agreed with our findings and recommendations. The agency’s response can be found at the end of the report.