Schools are responsible for equipping all students with academic and career skills, providing an environment that encourages them to learn and preparing them for life after K-12 education.
Oregon’s latest annual report card, released Thursday by the state’s Department of Education, shows the state is excelling at certain indicators and falling behind in others.
During the 2016-17 school year, there was a more diverse workforce of teachers and administrators, but educators were being paid less, on average, than previous years.
Fewer suspensions and expulsions were issued, but there is still a disproportionate amount of discipline involving students of color.
And more students missed school than before.
The achievement gap between students of color and their white peers has decreased, while students in career technical education courses continue to graduate at higher rates.
Here’s a look at some of these key indicators:
1. More diverse educators, earning less pay
Nearly 40 percent of Oregon’s students identify as a race/ethnicity other than white. However, more than 90 percent of Oregon’s teachers identify as white.
This has been criticized by some as one of the reasons many students of color are dropping out of school more, graduating less and being disciplined more.
According to the U.S. News & World Report, “minority teachers are often more motivated to work with minority students or in high-poverty and racially segregated schools.”
These teachers also tend to have higher academic expectations for minority students, according to the Report, who benefit from having teachers from their own racial group who have better knowledge of their culture and can serve as successful role models.
Slight gains in this area were made in Oregon last year, according to the latest report card. As the percent of students of color increased in Oregon last year, so did the percent of teachers of color.
In 2016-17, 37 percent of Oregon’s students identified as students of color, while 9.3 percent of teachers are people of color. These numbers are up from 36.6 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively, the year before.
For comparison, 50 percent Salem-Keizer Public School students identify as students of color and about 10 percent of staff identify as people of color.
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Oregon also saw diversity gains when it came to the number of principals and superintendents who are women.
The percentage of female principals increased in 2016-17 to 51 percent, up from 49 percent, according to the report card. The percentage of female superintendents increased from 28 percent to 30 percent.
“We’re making some progress, but still have a way to go,” said Jon Wiens, director of accountability and research for the Oregon Department of Education.
While there may be a more diverse workforce in Oregon schools, teachers and administrators are being paid less than years past.
After adjustments for inflation, superintendents are earning 1.1 percent less, principals are earning 5.3 percent less, assistant principals are earning 5.8 percent less and teachers are earning 5.3 percent less than they were in 2010-11.
That said, Oregon ranks in the top 20 states for average salaries of instructional staff and pays more than the national average, according to the National Education Association.
2. Fewer disciplinary actions, still disparities
The state has seen the number of reported discipline incidents decline over the past five years. This past school year was no exception.
The number of incidents has decreased from 6.71 percent of students enrolled in the 2012-13 school year to 5.17 percent in 2016-17.
Of the students who received one or more disciplines in 2016-17, eighth-graders had the highest percentage of incidents. Boys and students of color, particularly Black/African American and American Indian/Alaska Native students, received a higher rate of suspensions or expulsions.
Students who receive special education services and students considered economically disadvantaged also received more.
Salem-Keizer reported 137 expulsions and 3,198 suspensions in 2016-17, out of its approximately 42,000 students.
Read more: Why aren’t Native American students graduating on time?
3. Achievement gap, dropout rates shrink
The gap in four-year graduation rates between students of historically underserved races/ethnicities — Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — and other students — White, Asian and multiracial — has been notably wide over the years.
But in this year’s report, the state shows a glimmer of hope. The achievement gap has been cut in half over the last seven years, from more than 18 percentage points to less than 9 percentage points.
“We often don’t make the progress we’d like, but were able to make some here,” Wiens said.
Salem-Keizer students have an overall four-year graduation rate of 71.7 percent. The state overall graduation rate is 74.8 percent.
About 75 percent of white students graduated on time, whereas only 60.6 percent of Black/African American students, 67.5 percent of Hispanic/Latino students and 56.1 of American Indian/Alaska Native students in the district did.
While the state achievement gap concerning race was able to close some, other gaps have remained wide.
Students who are economically disadvantaged are graduating at rates of about 16 percentage points lower than the rates for students who were not economically disadvantaged, according to the report card.
Rates for students who are not proficient in English by the time they enroll in high school are almost 24 percentage points below rates for students with English proficiency, wider than the 16 percentage point gap six years earlier.
The state did see a decrease in dropout rates this year with a rate of 3.9 percent compared to the 4.3 percent the year prior. American Indian/Alaska Native students, regardless of gender, dropped out at the highest rates.
Salem-Keizer students saw an increase in dropout rates, with its overall dropout rate increasing from 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent.
Read more: Oregon schools fall short for children of color, immigrant children
4. Technical ed boosts chance of graduating
Students who complete at least one career technical education course are much more likely to graduate high school.
This finding has been supported multiple times and rings true again on this year’s state report card.
Of the students starting high school in 2012-13, these “CTE concentrators” were almost 16 percentage points more likely to graduate than students statewide in Oregon.
This translates to all races and ethnicities.
American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino students in career technical education all graduated more than 20 percentage points higher than the students of color who did not take a career technical course.
Wiens said this supports the ideas behind Measure 98, a ballot measure that was passed in 2016 requiring state funding for dropout prevention and career/college readiness programs in high schools.
Salem-Keizer has also seen success with its Career Technical Education Center. Students who complete at least one course at the center have an on-time graduation rate of 93 percent.
Read more: ODOT paves way for safe routes to schools, will spend $10 million a year
5. Chronic absenteeism increases
In 2016-17, 20 percent of Oregon’s students were chronically absent, meaning they missed more than 10 percent of school days.
High school seniors missed the most school as 38 percent of 12th graders across the state were chronically absent.
Subsequently, the percent of regular attenders decreased this year, according to the report card, from 81.3 percent to 80.3 percent.
Salem-Keizer has seen similar issues with attendance, especially at the high school level. Only 57.8 percent of students in grades 9-12 in the district are regular attenders.
Wiens said last year’s numbers may have been impacted by the number of snow days. He added absenteeism is a priority for the state, with the Oregon Legislature allocating additional funds this year to address the issue.
The regular attender rate may also be impacted by the increase of students experiencing homelessness. The statewide K-12 homeless student count increased in 2016-17 to 22,541 students, up from 21,340 students the year before.
To access your district or school’s reports, go to www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx. Select your district in the scroll down menu. Then select the school and/or year.
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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