The Oregonian, Tuesday, March 19, 1996

Oregon dropout rate increases

  • Members of the high school class of 1995 cite irrelevant classes when asked why one out of four left without a degree

    By Steven Carter
    of the Oregonian staff

    One out of every four members of Oregon's high school class of 1995 failed to get a degree, according to the state Department of Education.

    The department Monday released figures showing that the dropout rate for students in grades 9 through 12 increased from 6.6 percent in 1994 to 7.4 percent in 1995.

    And for the first time, the department tracked an entire class statewide through four years of high school. Cumulatively, the figures showed that one in four students, or 24.5 percent, of all members of the class of 1995 dropped out before finishing.

    Norma Paulus, state schools superintendent, said students cited irrelevant course work as their No.1 reason for leaving school.

    "We are losing bright, talented kids who are not challenged by the outdated curriculum and outmoded teaching methods," Paulus said. "They do not see the relevance of a high school education and are lured to low-wage jobs."

    Judy Miller, assistant state schools superintendent, said the figures were discouraging, particularly given the long-term job prospects of students who don't finish school.

    State officials surveyed administrators of schools with both high and low dropout rates. The administrators reported that students most frequently said that irrelevant course work was their reason for leaving. Other reasons cited included pressure from friends, teaching techniques that didn't match their learning styles and lack of personal attention in class.

    The school administrators in the survey, in turn, laid much of the problem to tight budgets, Miller said. The school leaders said they had been forced to curtail alternative education programs, lay off counselors and dump some elective courses that were attractive to at-risk students.

    Also a factor in the number of dropouts, Miller said, was the unemployment rate. When jobs are plentiful, marginal students tend to leave school for work, although it is well documented that dropouts have trouble getting and keeping good jobs over time.

    Principals at schools where the dropout rate declined cited their efforts to create real-world educational programs that link academics to the work world.

    Among schools with declining dropout rates were Pacific High School in Port Orford and Roosevelt High School in North Portland, both with extensive school-to-work programs that have students creating videos, doing internships or forming student corporations.

    Boys tend to drop out slightly more frequently than girls, the report said, 8.2 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. Among ethnic and racial groups, Hispanics dropped out at a rate of 17.9 percent in 1995, more than double the state average.

    Black students had a dropout rate of 11.6 percent; American Indians 11.1 percent; whites 6.7 percent, and Asian Americans 5.6 percent.



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