The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not focused on improving education for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs, though they account for nearly half the state’s high school dropouts. Sharpening Oregon’s focus would improve accountability, district oversight, and school and program performance, and would benefit at-risk students and the state’s economy.
Many vulnerable students attend Oregon’s alternative schools and programs and online schools. Responsibility for improving education for those students is shared by ODE, school districts, and others.
To determine how ODE and school districts can help increase the success of academically at-risk students in alternative and online education. Online and alternative education schools and programs also serve students who are not academically at-risk. The audit did not focus on their effectiveness with these students.
- ODE has not adequately tracked and reported on the performance of alternative schools and programs. As a result, the state lacks critical information about school and program effectiveness.
- Enhanced state monitoring and support, and more robust district oversight could improve results for at-risk students in alternative schools and programs, and in online schools.
- Some states have held districts, alternative schools, and programs to high standards and provided more support to help at-risk students succeed.
- Other states have also increased oversight of fast-growing online schools. In contrast to these states, Oregon’s laws allow online schools to increase enrollment rapidly regardless of their performance.
- To reach our findings, we interviewed multiple stakeholders, reviewed documents, analyzed school performance data, researched practices in other states, visited schools, and surveyed all of Oregon’s school districts. Our office also released an audit of graduation rates recently that focuses on students in traditional high schools.
This audit includes recommendations designed to improve results for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs. ODE should develop a more meaningful accountability system for alternative and online education. The agency should establish and monitor standards for crucial practices, such as annual district evaluations of these schools and programs. ODE should also strengthen state attendance and funding standards for online schools.
ODE generally agreed with our recommendations. The agency’s response can be found at the end of the report.