The 2019 graduation rate for The Dalles High School was 81.5 percent, besting the state average of 78.7 percent but falling below the previous year’s rate, 85.3 percent.
TDHS Principal Kurt Evans told the government affairs committee of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce that the graduation rate dropped a little bit, but he doesn’t have a simple answer of why.
“It goes up or down a few points each year. It just does,” he said.
He’s in his second year as principal, and he said transitions in leadership affects programs and institutions, usually not in a positive way. He said that leadership change was not the cause of the graduation rate drop, but it can affect it indirectly.
He also said that the graduation rate itself is only a measure of who completed minimum requirements. “This doesn’t measure the number of kids who graduated well.”
He said one of his biggest concerns is that boys have a lower graduation rate (76.1 percent) compared to girls (87.6 percent.) “We shouldn’t see such a discrepancy,” he said.
The Hispanic graduation rate is higher than the total graduation rate, and always has been, Evans said. It’s also higher than the state Hispanic graduation rate of 76.2. Hispanic students had a higher graduation rate (83.3 percent) than whites, (81 percent). Economically disadvantaged students had a 75.8 percent graduation rate.
For students who took multiple class offerings in one of the high school’s six Career and Technical Education (CTE) areas, or vocational education as it used to be called, the graduation rate was 91.7 percent. CTE programs are taught to industry standards. The school is in the process of adding a seventh CTE program in health occupations, which will be recognized by the state next year. The other six are computer science, culinary arts, welding, construction, mechanics and graphic arts.
The high school has about 800 students, and is 55 percent male, 45 percent female, 35 percent Hispanic/Latino, 16 percent special education, and 55 percent free and reduced lunch (which is a measure of poverty level.)
Migrant students have a 93.6 percent graduation rate, compared to the state average of 55 percent.
Evans said the school has more students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are college level courses. The school offers 167 courses overall. Students can also earn college credit by taking classes at Columbia Gorge Community College. “We have kids going to college every period.”
He said the school undertook “a massive reduction in fees” earlier, affecting everything from the cost of taking a CTE course to the cost of taking the AP exam.
Evans said that for students to stay in school, two things have to happen: they have to feel connected, be it through classes, sports or clubs; and they have to feel like they can be successful in school.
If a student fails math in ninth grade, they have to repeat it, meaning they can’t take the elective courses they’d like. “School becomes really not interesting to them because they can’t take anything they want.”
North Wasco County School District 21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong said the graduation rate and the dropout rate were two very different things.
The on-time graduation rate looks at how many students started high school as freshmen—wherever they may have started—and then graduated, on time, four years later.
Students are moving in and out of the school district constantly; sometimes 100 students will transfer and in and out of one grade in a single year. A lot of tracking goes on to measure how students are faring in other districts.
The dropout rate, however, measures how many seniors started their senior year and how many graduated. Armstrong said the school district used to think a 5 percent dropout rate was really good. Last year’s dropout rate was just 1.6 percent.
She said an 80 percent graduation rate does not equal a 20 percent dropout rate.
The school had 23 students listed as homeless, and for that group, their dropout rate was 8.9 percent.
Armstrong said Oregon has taken a beating for having a graduation rate listed as the 49th lowest in the US, but she said the state has stuck to its guns and retained some of the highest graduation standards in the nation.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we don’t lower our expectations,” she said.