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Oregon's 80.6% graduation rate, down 2% from last year, draws praise from education leaders

The 2021 graduation rate is the state’s second-highest graduation rate.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Despite the effects of the ongoing pandemic on students and education, 80.6% of Oregon students in the class of 2021 graduated on time, the state’s second-highest graduation rate but still a 2% decrease from last year.

Graduation rates in every student group fell from 2020, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). In particular, the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander student group saw the largest decrease in graduation rate, from 76.6% to 69.8%. Students experiencing homelessness saw graduation rates drop 5% from 2020 to 2021. Black students’ graduation rate was 73.5%, down from last year but up from 70.4% in 2019. Hispanic and Latino students’ graduation rate was 77%, an increase from 76.2% for the class of 2019.

ODE praised the graduation rate despite its decline, pointing out the class of 2021 bore the brunt of distance learning, which started in the middle of their junior year when the pandemic began and persisted through much of their senior year."

Oregon suspended its Essential Skills graduation requirement in 2020, which led some to criticize last year's higher graduation rate as an inaccurate picture.

"I would strongly argue that our students are reaching very high and rigorous standards. Oregon did not change any of its credit requirements for earning a diploma," said ODE Director Colt Gill. "Our requirements were highly rigorous and I don't think our students' rates were increased because of any change there."

RELATED: Failing grades improve among Salem-Keizer high school students in second quarter

Oregon has for years had among the lowest graduation rates in the country. Though the state has made significant improvement over recent years, increasing from a statewide graduation rate of 72% in 2014, it consistently ranks in the bottom three states.

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, reported a graduation rate of 84.4% for the class of 2021. It’s a slight increase from 2020 and marks the 12th straight year of increasing rates, PPS said.

More than half of PPS high schools had graduation rates above 90%. Benson High School, a career technical education high school, had a graduation rate of 91% for Black students and 90% for Latino students, 15% higher than district average.

“We are proud of our students for their resilience and tenacity during a time when the pandemic has brought about significant disruptions to public education and their learning experience,” PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said in a statement

Salem-Keizer Public Schools had a stable graduation rate of 80.9% in 2021, and for the first time since 2014 exceeded the statewide average.   

RELATED: Graduation rates at Portland Public Schools highest in a decade

“It goes without saying that students are greatly impacted by the disruption to learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Salem-Keizer Assistant Superintendent Iton Udosenata. “The ability for the Class of 2021 to not only have a graduation rate that is stable compared to the previous year, but also surpasses the statewide average is a true representation of the resiliency and dedication of students, staff and their families during this time.”

“While we see these challenges reflected in graduation rates for some of our student groups, we also applaud our educators and program advocates who went to extraordinary lengths to keep students engaged in learning throughout the whole school year,” said Superintendent Christy Perry.

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