24 Aug

To increase graduation, don’t test kids, watch them

Oregon’s on-time high school graduation rate is appalling. We’re among the lowest states in the country, although there’s no reason to think Oregon teenagers are any more impervious to algebra than other teenagers.

Because there are Oregon districts and schools that make it work. Hillsboro high schools, and Rex Putnam High School in Clackamas County, graduate their kids at much higher percentages, and have improved their performance.

What’s key is watching for problems early, and not trying to catch up when it’s too late.

That means watching kids closely during ninth grade, when a lot of kids have trouble with the middle school to high school jump, and fall behind in a way that makes catching up a towering challenge. It means watching for any point when a student starts to seem overwhelmed, or begins to have a truancy problem. A key part of the strategy is building relationships between students and adults.

In a high school bigger than any school they’ve attended before, with all the confusions and pressures of being a teenager, kids can fall through the cracks, and take your graduation rate with them.

These days, we believe in constantly testing kids, and demanding their standardized scores.

But to raise graduation rates, don’t watch the numbers.
Watch the kids.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 8/22/15.

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