Graduation rates

Graduation rates are improving.

Clatsop County educators should take a brief, but well deserved, break for a moment to pat themselves on the back for a significant achievement.

The celebration marks the latest reports from the state that highlight the manner in which on-time graduation rates have improved across the board.

The statewide graduation rate for the class of 2018-19 was 80%, ahead of last year’s rate, though still below the national high school graduation rate of 85% recorded in the 2016-17 school year.

The rates for the county’s three largest school districts are all increases from the prior years:

• Astoria, 85.8%.

• Warrenton, 80.5%

• Seaside, 76.8%

Jewell, which admittedly has one of the smallest enrollments among school districts in the state, had every student graduate this past year.

Knappa, however, showed a slight decline to 88.8% after a stellar 94.2% in 2017-18 and 90.6% the year before.

Statistics sometimes mask the human element when examining issues, so perhaps we need to state the issue in another way: Even these kind of rates still signal that out of every five students, at least one is in danger of not graduating.

Astoria’s leaders have been proactive about seeing the big picture.

Designating graduation counselors to guide students on a workable path has been a good move. A while ago, school district leaders made it a priority to combat absenteeism; they can chart significant progress in this effort. They acknowledge that students rarely succeed to their full potential when enduring hunger, homelessness and mental health issues. The schools have no magic wand to wave these problems away. But identifying them, and working with other agencies to alleviate problems, are important steps in the right direction.

Tackling the root causes of students missing school is one key. The other is providing a relevant and engaging educational experience. Curriculum should be under constant review to ensure it appeals to the broadest range of abilities and interests.

Much discussion in the modern era has been about schools balancing the needs of students who are bound for higher education after graduation with those for whom more practical skills and experience will best prepare them with trade skills for success in the workplace.

It is pleasing that Astoria offers an opportunity for students to earn credit at Clatsop Community College by taking more advanced classes while still in high school. This stimulates those students who are high achievers academically and has the added benefits of saving money and time for when they graduate and step up to a two- or four-year institution.

But the smart districts know that they also need to invest in practical classes like shop, automotive and others offering potential trade skills. Not all students are destined for further academic education beyond high school. Their contribution to society is no less valuable.

And let’s not forget about music, the arts and activities like sports. Often they are the first to be targeted when the budget ax looms. But anyone who has worked in our public schools can point to students for whom such enrichment has been the key to keeping them in school, maintaining high grades.

An analysis by The Oregonian of the statewide picture reveals Clatsop’s gains — which are reflected from Coos Bay to Klamath County — can be attributed to several initiatives. These include adding spending priorities to assist students, mostly Latinos, for whom English is not their first language.

Other strategies include making sure freshmen students are earning sufficient credits to qualify for their diplomas on a realistic pace without falling behind.

This latest announcement of improvements in graduation rates around Oregon is indeed cause for some celebration. A couple of years ago, the revelation that our state’s on-time graduation rates were the second worst in the nation was an embarrassing wake-up call.

We commend North Coast educators who have played their role in enhancing this important, measurable achievement. But we know — as they do — that until every school district mirrors Jewell’s success with 100% of students graduating on time, there is still work to be done.