PHOENIX, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Education released its "at-a-glance" profiles of school districts across the state this week, including key numbers on the number of students who graduated this year and those on-track to graduate in the years ahead. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on performance over the past school year.
However, there were a few bright spots to emerge from the numbers. Despite both the pandemic and a wildfire that displaced many students and their families, the Phoenix-Talent School District kept pace with its graduation rate and surpassed neighboring districts with the percentage of students on-track to graduate.
On-time and on-track graduation rates
- Oregon statewide | On-track: 74% | On-time: 83%
- Ashland SD | On-track: 74% | On-time: 94%
- Phoenix-Talent SD | On-track: 87% | On-time: 85%
- Klamath County SD | On-track: 79% | On-time: 84%
- Brookings-Harbor SD | On-track: 69% | On-time: 84%
- Three Rivers SD | On-track: 67% | On-time: 84%
- Eagle Point SD | On-track: 69% | On-time: 83%
- Medford SD | On-track: 63% | On-time: 83%
- Grants Pass SD | On-track: 77% | On-time: 78%
- Central Point SD | On-track: 59% | On-time: 78%
- Rogue River SD | On-track: 51% | On-time: 74%
- Klamath Falls City SD | On-track: 48% | On-time: 73%
For context, Oregon's average on-time graduation rate for the 2020-21 school year is 83 percent, and 74 percent of students are on-track to graduate throughout the state, on average. The first figure looks at the share of seniors who graduated on-time in the class of 2021, while the latter looks at how many credits the freshman class completed.
Phoenix-Talent Schools slightly surpassed the state graduation average, with 85 percent of seniors graduating on time. But its on-track to graduate rate of 87 percent well outdoes both the state average and the rates of neighboring districts, even if it is lower this year than it was the year prior.
— OR Dept of Education (@ORDeptEd) October 7, 2021
"We had tremendous setbacks with the fire and the pandemic and online learning," said Superintendent Brent Barry. "But we were one of the schools that was able to go two full quarters in-person for our high school, and we saw those number drastically increase on credits earned — which just shows you the value of in-person learning."
After the Almeda Fire left numerous students without stable homes to stay or study in, Phoenix-Talent received a special waiver from the state allowing it to resume in-person learning. The District still approached its return slowly and cautiously, trying to ensure that students and staff would be safe on-site.
Barry said that schools track these numbers all school year, so ODE's report is not a surprise. High school freshmen who earn six credits are most likely to graduate on time, and the District pays close attention to how they are performing.
"Our students are earning this, they are getting the job done and doing the work that gets them over the finish line and graduation — or meeting that target of on-track graduation," Barry said. "So the persistence, the resiliency of our kids is just simply amazing."
The support, engagement, and determination of families and staff has been key as well, Barry added.
"That started from week one, because the Almeda Fire really turned everything on its head," Barry said. "We communicated with our families and got ahold of all of them within the first couple weeks, which I think carried over throughout the year — once we started to get into school and then get into in-person learning, those relationships and communication avenues were pretty solid for our staff."
Barry added that Phoenix High School's graduation rate for the class of 2021 was actually 93 percent, but ODE's numbers for the District include Armadillo Tech Charter School, which had a graduation rate of 52 percent.
Of the major school districts in southern Oregon, only Ashland Public Schools had a higher on-time graduation rate than Phoenix-Talent, with an impressive 94 percent. But Ashland's on-track to graduate rate is level with the state average of 74 percent.
Statewide, ODE noted a decline in on-track rates of nearly 12 percent since the 2018-19 school year, which the agency interpreted as a need for increased support to students as they resume full-time and in-person instruction. The on-time graduation rate has essentially plateaued compared to 2020 stats reported earlier this year.
“The 2020-21 school year was unlike any other our state has ever faced, but the strength, resiliency and resolve of students, families and educators saw us through,” said ODE director Colt Gill. “We’re relying on that same strength and resolve during our first few months of school as our educators focus on minimizing COVID-19 and connecting with students to support their mental health.
"Oregon’s schools are ready, eager and committed to serving our students. Data is key to tell us how to better invest and serve students and we look forward to using this year’s profiles to continue focusing on diversifying and strengthening our educator workforce and providing all students the supports they need to graduate.”
One other statistic that ODE highlighted was a 9.5 percent increase in the number of counselors and psychologists employed by schools and districts, which the agency says reflects an increasing focus on students' social, emotional, and mental well-being.