Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber speaks during the annual Oregon Business Summit in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The state's business community has outlined a legislative wish list centered on improvements in education, infrastructure and natural resource policy. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon public high schools have to start picking up the pace if they are to achieve Gov. John Kitzhaber's demand for a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025.
The state said Thursday that the on-time graduation rate increased to 72 percent in 2014. It's a jump of 3.3 percentage points from a year ago, but that gain is largely because of a new calculation procedure.
In previous years, special education students awarded modified diplomas were not counted in the graduation rate. This year, they are. The new calculation also includes students who met the requirements for a diploma after four years, but chose to stay in high school for a fifth-year program offered by some districts.
Oregon education officials say other states include such students in their tallies, so this year's rate makes for a better comparison than in 2013, when the state's graduation rate ranked last in the nation. National rankings for 2014 aren't available yet, but an extra 3.3 percentage points last year would have pushed Oregon ahead of four states.
Still, 72 percent leaves Oregon a long way from the governor's "40-40-20" goal. The governor expects 40 percent of students to receive a bachelor's degree or higher, 40 percent to get an associate degree or certificate and the other 20 percent to at least get a high school diploma.
"How (72 percent) strikes me is that we've got to go for 40-40-20 by 2025, and we've got work to do," Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden said.
Though no U.S. state has a graduation rate of 100 percent, or even 90 percent, most exceed 80 percent. Data released by Oregon education officials this week shows that 86 percent of Asian students graduated in four years, but white, black, Hispanic and American Indian students all fell well short of 80 percent. Only 68 percent of boys graduated in four years compared with 76 percent of girls.
As for improving the dropout rate, Golden said the state can make dramatic strides if it continues its push to have kids reading proficiently by the third grade and finds a way to get all students to show up regularly.
"We need to have a laser focus on chronic absenteeism," she said.
Despite the poor graduation rate, positive trends appeared in some districts. Hispanic students in the Woodburn School District, which is heavily Latino, had a graduation rate 23 percent higher than Hispanic students statewide. State officials credited a districtwide dual-language program.
Hispanic students in the Stanfield School District had a similarly strong performance. The state chalked it up to the Eastern Promise program, a partnership between Eastern Oregon high schools and Eastern Oregon University and local community colleges.
The state has nearly 200 school districts, most of them small. The districts representing the three largest cities — Portland, Eugene and Salem — had graduation rates near the state average.
Excluding districts with fewer than 20 students, the Eastern Oregon school districts of Imbler, Enterprise and Pilot Rock had the highest graduation rates, all topping 96 percent. The worst rates were in Crook County, Estacada and Elkton. All graduated between 20 percent and 30 percent the students who enrolled in 2010-11.
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