Are schools doing what they need to educate Oregon students?


Graduation rates are stagnant, more students are dropping out, fewer are continuing onto college and less than half are meeting or exceeding certain state standards.

These are some of the key takeaways from the Salem-Keizer School District’s annual report card.

But it isn’t all bad. For example, growth was seen on state language arts and math tests by elementary and middle school students.

For nearly 20 years, the Oregon Department of Education has released annual report cards to give families, educators and other tax-paying community members an idea of how well each institution is performing.

Individual school and district reports include a snapshot of test scores, graduation and drop-out rates, demographics and learning environment, to name a few. A statewide report card will be released in November.

These reports aim to answer the question: Are schools and districts doing their job to educate and prepare students for life after graduation?

The Department of Education is planning a redesign of the reports next year, which will include new indicators of success, like per pupil spending.

It can be overwhelming to look through the hundreds of data points on each report. Here are some of the highlights from the 2016-17 report cards released Thursday.

To access your district or school’s reports, go to Select your district in the scroll down menu. Then select the school and/or year.

Graduation rates

The numbers for four-year graduation rates:

  • Central: 86 percent (2015-16) up from 72.3 percent (2014-15)
  • Dallas: 74.9 percent (2015-16) down from 81.9 percent (2014-15)
  • North Santiam: 77.4 percent (2015-16) down from 81.3 percent (2014-15)
  • Salem-Keizer: 71.7 percent (2015-16) flat from 71.7 percent (2014-15)
  • Silver Falls: 88.5 percent (2015-16) down from 89.9 percent (2014-15)
  • Woodburn: 84.1 percent (2015-16) down from 84.5 percent (2014-15)

What it means:

Salem-Keizer’s graduation rates were stagnant for the 2015-16 school year compared to 2014-15, remaining at 71.7 percent.

This contrasts with to the statewide average, which has steadily increased in the last five years from 68 percent in 2010-11 to 74.8 in 2015-16. The 2016-17 graduation rates will be released in January.

Oregon is among the bottom states in the country for graduation rates, followed only by Nevada, New Mexico and the District of Columbia. The nationwide graduation rate in 2014-15 was 83 percent.

Kelly Carlisle, the assistant superintendent for Salem-Keizer, said it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison when examining Oregon’s graduation rate versus other states. Oregon tracks graduation rates beginning the first day a freshman enters high school, he said, which not all states do.

Salem-Keizer is the second largest school district in Oregon with more than 41,000 students. Officials have listed various factors that affect graduation rates, including class size and high populations of economically disadvantaged students.

The rate of students graduating in four years is different than those graduating in five years or earning a GED or modified diploma. These instances are tracked in the district’s completion rate.

Salem-Keizer’s overall completion rate decreased from 82.4 percent in 2014-15 to 80.6 percent in 2015-16, compared to the statewide average of 81.9 percent.

While the district wants to increase the overall four-year graduation rate, Carlisle found particularly concerning the low rate for students who identify as African American or black.

According to the district’s report, only 60.6 percent of black students are graduating in four years. Additionally, “American Indian/Alaskan Native” students and students with disabilities are graduating at an even lower rate, at 56.1 percent and 49.9 percent respectively. Each of these is below the state average for those groups.

Carlisle said the district needs to look closer at what marginalized groups need in terms of support and instruction. He plans to speak with members of the community to gather ideas and better understand these students’ needs.

Test scores

The numbers for high school science:

  • Central: 58.2 percent (2016-17) down from 71.8 percent (2015-16)
  • Dallas: 53.7 percent (2016-17) down from 67 percent (2015-16)
  • North Santiam: 62.8 percent (2016-17) down from 68.5 percent (2015-16)
  • Salem-Keizer: 47.3 percent (2016-17) up from 47.0 percent (2015-16)
  • Silver Falls: 75.7 percent (2016-17) up from 64.6 percent (2015-16)
  • Woodburn: 28.8 percent (2016-17) up from 25.9 percent (2015-16)

What it means:

Though Salem-Keizer’s test scores remained nearly stagnant this year when it comes to high school science, the percentage of 11th-graders who met or exceeded state requirements in science has declined substantially over the years.

In 2010-11, 61.9 percent of students met or exceeded standards. In this year’s report, reflecting the 2016-17 test scores, only 47.3 percent of students met or exceeded standards.

Juniors did improve, however, in math and English language arts, going from 32.8 percent last year to 37.9 percent in math and from 71.7 percent to 74.3 percent in English.

2014-15 was the first year English and math were assessed through the Smarter Balanced test. Science is still assessed for fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders through the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, known as OAKS.

Lisa Harlan, director of Salem-Keizer’s elementary education, spoke to the scores of third- and fifth-graders on state assessments, which posted improvements this year.

She said the district has focused intently on literacy by aligning the curriculum across schools with state standards. This allows educators to better identify the gaps in a student’s understanding of the subject and intervene earlier.

As a result, 39 percent of elementary schools saw growth in their English language arts scores this year. Now, about 55 percent of all elementary schools are at or above average, Harlan said.

“When the majority of elementary schools have a majority of students growing faster than their peers, that’s huge,” she said.

Middle schools also saw improvements, with eight of the district’s 13 middle schools seeing growth in language arts and 10 of the schools improving in math, Carlisle said.

Harlan said the remaining schools are also on their way to closing the gaps. The next step is to apply the same curriculum-aligning strategy to other subjects, like math. Harlan expects to see the same results.

When asked why the district isn’t seeing the same growth in science, Harlan said it is, in part, because the test is not aligned to the state science standards teachers are instructed to teach.

“It’s good information to know, but we know it’s not the same,” she said.

An in-depth report of state assessment results was released in September. The reports can be found on the Department of Education’s website.

Dropout, college-bound rates

The numbers for dropout rates:

  • Central: 1.7 percent (2015-16) up from 1.1 percent (2014-15)
  • Dallas: 3.1 percent (2015-16) up from 2.8 percent (2014-15)
  • North Santiam: 3.1 percent (2015-16) up from 2.9 percent (2014-15)
  • Salem-Keizer: 4.3 percent (2015-16) up from 3.8 percent (2014-15)
  • Silver Falls: 1.8 percent (2015-16) down from 2.2 percent (2014-15)
  • Woodburn: 2.2 percent (2015-16) up from 2.1 percent (2014-15)

The numbers for college-bound rates:

  • Central: 57.4 percent (2014-15) down from 68.5 percent (2013-14)
  • Dallas: 59.9 percent (2014-15) down from 69.4 percent (2013-14)
  • North Santiam: 44.5 percent (2014-15) down from 63 percent (2013-14)
  • Salem-Keizer: 59.4 percent (2014-15) down from 62.6 percent (2013-14)
  • Silver Falls: 55.7 percent (2014-15) down from 57.3 percent (2013-14)
  • Woodburn: 64.1 percent (2014-15) up from 59.6 percent (2013-14)

What it means:

More students are dropping out of Salem-Keizer schools than before, and fewer students are pursuing college after graduation.

The district’s dropout rate increased from 3.8 percent of high school students the year before to 4.3 percent in 2015-16. Other districts, including Central, Dallas, North Santiam and Woodburn, also saw higher drop out rates in this year’s reports.

These reports only track students who started high school. This number is different than the tracking of younger students who switch districts.

“The reasons students drop out are myriad,” Carlisle said. “There are as many different reasons as there are students who drop out.”

He said the district will need to evaluate the district’s alternative programs to see what options students have if the traditional classroom setting isn’t the right fit for them. This will likely mean a new program that doesn’t currently exist, he said.

When it comes to pursuing education after graduation, Salem-Keizer’s percentages dropped from 62.6 percent of students enrolling in a community college or four-year school within 16 months of graduating in 2013-14 to 59.4 percent in 2014-15, the state’s most recent data.

Carlisle said this isn’t a very sophisticated way of looking at students going to college because they may be taking more than 16 months to save up for college.

“It’s not whether you go to college, it’s when,” he said.

Knowing more than half the students in the district are considered economically disadvantaged, this is a real issue for Salem-Keizer students.

While more students are taking advantage of the district’s career technical education courses, Carlisle doesn’t necessarily think this is the reason fewer students are going straight to college. It’s true these courses provide students with an alternative pathway, but many students will still need to attend a community college or program to secure licenses or certificates, he said.

Instead of encouraging students to go straight to college, Carlisle said the district focuses on providing students with the “readiness” skills they will need to pursue life after graduation, preparing them for a certain level of reading and critical thinking.

Data for 2015-16 dropout rates and college continuation rates will be released with graduating rates in January.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at

More on education: Top education official Salam Noor leaves Oregon Department of Education | Salem-Keizer students out of school Thursday, Friday | District sues student, his parents for $19,000

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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