DALLAS -- Officials in the Dallas School District fielded numerous phone calls last week regarding its dismal-looking cohort graduation rate announced in an Oregon Department of Education report released on May 25.
Dallas High School's graduation rate, 44.7 percent, is one of the lowest in the state. But school district representatives said there is a positive story behind that number.
Oregon switched to the four-year cohort rate a year ahead of federal standards, which will require all states to use the same measurement. The rate tracks students from their freshman to senior year and measures how many earned their diplomas within four years. Tracking started in 2005.
Students earning a modified diploma, GED, adult high school diploma or who take longer than four years to earn their degree are no longer included in the new formula.
"Under federal law, those do not count as a graduate," said Crystal Greene, the spokeswoman for ODE's Office of Assessment. "Those are generally not seen as preparing students (for college or a career) as well as a diploma."
The problem for Dallas High is it has a significant number of students in a five-year program in which they earn their diploma and complete a year's worth of college coursework, called Extended Campus.
Dallas High School Principal Keith Ussery said the program is successful -- about 87 percent of students complete their first year of college -- and has grown since it began in 2005 to include about 25 percent of the senior class.
"It's tremendously successful," Ussery said.
However, because it takes five years for students to complete the program, it reflects negatively on the district's graduation rates.
Greene said, on the other hand, the new reporting system offers more information about what happens to students after they enter their freshman year. That gives districts access to specific data about different student groups, which could help district officials make better decisions to support student success.
"It provides a wealth of information about where kids are ending up," Greene said.
Statewide, the four-year cohort rate is 66 percent for 2008-09, according to an ODE report. The current target for the cohort graduation rate is 65 percent. This will be raised to 90 percent by 2020.
The state also released graduation rates based on the formula used in the past. In comparison, the statewide rate is 85 percent, with a dropout rate of 3.4 percent. Under the previous formula, Dallas' rate is 76.9 percent.
Central School District fared far better than Dallas, with a 70.9 percent four-year graduation rate.
Falls City and Perrydale have a 40 percent and 100 percent rate, respectively.
Falls City High School Principal Sid Hobgood said the high school's classes are so small that the numbers are easily skewed. Furthermore, small high schools such as Falls City won't suffer sanctions for not meeting the standard, Hobgood said.
Next year, the state will report a four-year graduation rate and a five-year graduation rate, with a 70-percent standard on the five-year rate, which should incorporate the Extended Campus participants in Dallas.
Ussery said the district still is trying to sort through the numbers and the methods used to compile them before it can issue a definitive explanation for why the district's numbers are so low.
"We know for certain Extended Campus plays a role in the number," Ussery said.
He said a better comparison for Dallas is with the rates of other districts, such as Scio, Redmond, Woodburn and Salem-Keizer's Early College High School, that have incorporated programs in which students are purposely taking longer than four years to graduate. Those programs require more time, but offer a better opportunity for some students, he said.
"I wouldn't trade the Extended Campus program for a better number any day," Ussery said. "It's such a benefit for those students."