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10,634 quit school in Oregon

Between freshman and senior year, nearly 22 percent of high school students drop out, the state reports

Thursday, April 27, 2000

By Bill Graves of The Oregonian staff

A total of 10,634 Oregon teen-agers -- enough to fill five of the state's largest high schools -- quit school last year, state education officials reported Wednesday.

Schools saw a modest decline in the one-year dropout rate for 1998-99 from the previous year, from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent. Over four years, the state projects the dropout rate is 21.7 percent, a slight decrease from the four-year rate calculated last year. That means that more than one in five students entering as freshmen drop out by senior year.

"What we do now way too much is to say, 'Here is high school. Here's what's available. Take it or leave it,' " said Oregon Superintendent Stan Bunn. "We have to modify high schools to meet the needs of individual students."

Schools must do a better job of identifying potential dropouts and determine why they leave, then create programs that keep them in school, Bunn said.

Oregon's dropout rate has climbed since the early 1990s, but has changed little since 1996-97, when the state stopped counting students who earned their General Educational Development (GED) certificate as dropouts.

The state report showed that boys are more likely to quit school -- 56 percent of dropouts last year were male. Latinos posted the highest dropout rate of 14.9 percent, while Asian American students posted the lowest at 5.6 percent.

The high Latino dropout rate reflects cultural barriers that limit communication between schools and Spanish-speaking parents and students, said Emilio Hernandez Jr., a member of the State Board of Education and director of the high school equivalency program at the University of Oregon.

Schools need to hire more bilingual teachers, keep parents better informed of expectations and find ways to engage Latino teens, he said.

"Students do not feel part of the school environment," he said.

Oregon's highest dropout rate was at Marshall High School, an alternative school in Deschutes County, where 44 percent of the students quit in one year.

Among regular high schools, the worst dropout rate was at Weston-McEwan High in rural Umatilla County. It lost 15 percent of students in a single year, which would mean fewer than half of its students would earn a diploma if that rate continued for four years.

The highest dropout rates in the three-county Portland area were at Portland's Marshall High School (10.9 percent), McMinnville High School (10.1 percent) and Portland's Metropolitan Learning Center (9.8 percent). Metropolitan Learning Center is a K-12 magnet school, which offers a less traditional education with more emphasis on student-initiated study.

Eighteen small high schools, all located outside the Portland area, boasted a perfect record for 1998-99: Not a single student dropped out. Largest of those was Crow High School, west of Eugene.

Portland area high schools posting the lowest dropout rates were Gladstone High, where only nine of 885 students quit; and Lake Oswego's two high schools, where less than 2 percent quit.

Few Oregon schools face more cultural barriers than Madras High School in Jefferson County, where 36 percent of the students are Native American, 22 percent Latino and more than 60 percent from low-income homes.

Yet Madras High cut its dropout rate by a third, from 14.5 percent in 1997-98 to 10 percent last year. A variety of efforts to help students connect with school contributed to the reduction, said Phil Riley, superintendent of the district.

Madras Principal Tom Carlton said he expected the district to make more progress in reducing dropouts this year because it offers summer school to struggling eighth-graders and assigns teacher mentors to guide them through their freshman year.

Lebanon High School also saw a sharp drop from 11.3 percent to 6.7 percent, but district Superintendent Jim Robinson says he can't say why. The school has a small program to give struggling students extra help, he said, and the staff has been working on creating a more inviting school climate. But neither of those efforts could account for such a big drop, he said.

"The dropout rate is a feature or a symptom of the culture of the school and of whether or not you keep kids from feeling they are lost," Robinson said.

Portland Public Schools saw its one-year dropout rate increase from 11.8 to 13.1. Administrators attribute most of that to the increase in dropouts among roughly 3,500 students enrolled in alternative schools. The dropout rate for Portland's alternative schools climbed from 25 percent to 35 percent.

"We are raising expectations, and some kids are having a more difficult time," said Chet Edwards, coordinator of alternative education for Portland schools.

Statewide, students were more likely to quit at age 16 and 17, often after a long slide of absences that left them so far behind they would need years to make up course credits.

School officials surveyed about 5,000 dropouts when they left school, and the No. 1 reason they cited for leaving was a lack of course credits.

Other common reasons, according to students, were lack of support from parents, jobs that kept them busy more than 15 hours a week, dysfunctional homes and alcohol and drug abuse. A total of 628 students, 533 of them girls, said they quit school because they had children.

Frequent moving from school to school also increases the chances of teens quitting school. One in four dropouts last year had been enrolled less than a year in the schools he or she quit.

The U.S. Department of Education differs from Oregon in the way it calculates dropout rates, making it impossible to compare Oregon to other states.

A complete report on Oregon's high school dropout rate is available at the Oregon Department of Education Web site,


Staff writer Steve Carter contributed to this report. You can reach Bill Graves at 503-221-8549 or by e-mail at