Report Card: Oregon releases new school success data

Patrick Spence, Managing Editor

  Every year, Oregon releases an assessment of each school’s educational performance. For decades, Oregon has long been criticized for its education system, which has had graduation rates chronically below almost every other state in the nation. Our graduation rates, long stuck below 80 percent, have barely budged upward despite continual pledges on the state and local level to do so. Student proficiency in language arts and mathematics remain consistently low.

    Oregon has some of the nation’s shortest school years and largest class sizes; correspondingly, the results are, according to State Representative Dan Rayfield, “clearly bad for students.” The state government has made strides to counteract this, dedicating the needed funds toward education. Nevertheless, while the state government’s budget over the past year increased funding to education statewide, a smaller amount remained per student once accounting for increased overhead, which came predominantly in the form of increased pensions–an expenditure which Rayfield expects to remain high for the next several years.

    Granted, it is important to not view Oregon in a vacuum. Unskewing the data shows Oregon is not such a bad performer–or rather, the rest of the country is worse than otherwise thought in relation to Oregon. Rayfield suggested help is on the way. Oregon Governor Kate Brown has released her proposed budget, which will raise spending on public education to around half the statewide budget. This would mirror actions taken by Georgia, which has risen to be one of the nation’s top performing states when it comes to student educational outcomes. This could reduce class sizes, expand public preschool, and give students more opportunities, in and out of school, to specialize in dozens of fields.

    Kim Butzner, member of the Greater Albany Public Schools school board, noted “nobody really knows why Oregon chronically underperforms other states educationally. It’s truly systemic.” According to the most recent statewide school report card, issued this month, Albany schools have been out performing statewide benchmarks. However, last year, Albany did worse in many areas than in the several years prior. Middle schools in particular have underperformed, leaving incoming high schoolers unprepared academically. Over the past several years, many students have entered high school unprepared for the course load and expectations, and have begun failing their classes at very high rates. Compounding all this is a wave of behavior issues in lower grades which may affect school performance for years to come, as they divert attention and resources from academic performance.

    Statewide data provided by WAHS administration shows our school routinely performs amongst the top dozen large schools in Oregon. Not only do we have top-tier graduation rates, but our students are more prepared than most when leaving high school. The vast majority of students leaving school going to university, a community college, or a trade school.

   Going forward, the governor’s proposed budget dedicates funds toward reducing class sizes, gets more support staff into schools, and adds more extracurricular programs. Nevertheless, future education reform is going to take a lot to bring all Oregon schools to where they must be for better student outcomes.