Oregon’s online schools report graduation rates amid rising enrollment and greater scrutiny
In March 2020, COVID-19 had closed schools in Oregon, forcing everyone to learn remotely. In the following school year, this continued as thousands of students began the school year in full distance learning.
Some students have decided to transition to an all-virtual education, transferring to established virtual charter schools or new virtual schools through their school district.
This has led to some schools experiencing dramatic growth, such as Hillsboro Online Academy, which has been around since 2012. Last year, school enrollment skyrocketed from 155 students in 2019-20 to 1,145 students in 2020 -21, according to state registration data. .
Principal Linda Harrington said she has seen students enter school with more needs as they continue their education during a pandemic.
“Yes, we’re an optional school, but sometimes it feels like an alternative school,” Harrington said.
Regarding recently released graduation rate data, HOA reported a 4-year graduation rate of 76.79% for the Class of 2021. This represents a drop of approximately five percentage points from the previous year. ‘last year.
The four-year graduation rate tracks students from the time they begin ninth grade until they reach their expected graduation date four years later. Students who change schools are usually included in the graduation rate of the school where they last attended.
The pandemic is causing an increase in enrollment in online schools, new and old, and with this growth, they are coming under increased scrutiny by the state. But students at these schools also need support, and recently released graduation rates show there’s still a long way to go for online schools to catch up with their physical counterparts.
Harrington recognizes graduation rates as a measure of success. But she says the fact that a student has graduated doesn’t necessarily reflect what they will do after school.
“At the end of the day, I always want them to be successful, and I want them to feel good about themselves, and I want them to feel good about the next steps,” Harrington said.
“Yes, the graduation rate and the completion rate are important, but that’s not the motivation for it. They are children.
Increase support while keeping students on track
At the state level, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said efforts around new standards for virtual schools stem from “significant concern” about graduation rates for college students. schools. In data for the Class of 2021, some schools are reporting 4-year graduation rates of 27% or 44%, compared to the state’s 4-year average of 80.6%.
The ODE’s focus on online schools also stems from a 2017 Secretary of State audit that exposed the state’s lack of oversight for online and alternative schools. The authors of the audit recommended that ODE develop a system of accountability and establish standards for participation and funding.
Gill said the state board of education is working with virtual schools and school districts to create a set of standards for those schools.
“We need to make sure that we support schools and keep them to high standards at the same time,” Gill said.
Much like Harrington’s description of the Hillsboro Online Academy, Gill said virtual schools can provide an opportunity for students who have not succeeded in a traditional school environment.
“Graduation rate [at online schools] track, sometimes significantly, graduation rates at our brick-and-mortar schools,” Gill said. “…Some of these operate as alternative schools where the students also failed in the brick and mortar school they originally came from, and entered these schools in late in the credits to start.”
At Metro East Web Academy, an online school based in Gresham, enrollment rose 48% for the 2020-2021 school year to 800 students. The school’s 4-year graduation rate for the same year was 47.39%, a decrease of almost 11 percentage points from the previous year.
Metro East Web Academy executive director David Gray said it’s difficult to make year-to-year comparisons between students because the student population changes throughout the year, with some students arriving at school behind in credits and dropping out of school.
“We focus on attendance first because we know that before engagement can happen, students need to be present and engaged,” Gray wrote in an email to OPB.
“We then focus on engagement for academic success, and finally, if students are successful in their studies, they will be well on their way to graduating.”
Gray said more than half of the students who came to Metro East Web Academy for their senior year were late.
“On average, the 39 12th graders came to us 10 credits behind, almost two years behind in their graduation requirements,” Gray wrote in an email to OPB.
The school is working on a standards-based grading system and interviewing students who have not passed through the online school.
“We pride ourselves on working to meet the needs of students and families, understanding that students must have their basic needs met before they are open and ready to learn,” Gray said.
Results of an online program hosted by the district in its first year
In Beaverton, district officials have created an online program within the school, to keep students in Beaverton while meeting their needs.
“We know we have kids too because they struggle to connect in a mixed school environment,” said Jon Franco, Beaverton Secondary Schools’ executive administrator.
The 2021 class of FLEX Online School was the first. The rate of students graduating in four years – but having only spent the last year at FLEX Online School – was 80.65%.
Franco said graduation rates for online schools tend to be lower across Oregon, but Beaverton will continue to support its virtual students.
“We are also realistic, but we will continue to strive to maintain this graduation rate where it is,” Franco said.
Five-year graduation rates, as well as 5-year graduation rates (for students who graduate via a GED or other degree alternatives), for these schools are much higher, with some schools reaching 66% and more.
Prior to COVID-19, the 5-year graduation rate was the metric that Harrington at Hillsboro watched the most. For HOA, this rate was 95.45% for the class of 2021.
Going forward, she said she will strive to maintain this high 5-year completion rate, but her goal for now is to get students re-engage with the school.
One of her first efforts is something she calls “triage.” It will be an in-person opportunity for students, starting with seniors, to have a place to connect with peers and teachers. Before the pandemic, the school offered in-person opportunities like physical education, but that has been on hold for two years.
Although her school has “online” in its name, Harrington plans to do more in person on the road than just physical education. She plans to place rugs in an old gym, complete with rocking chairs, cookies and music.
“We’re an online school again offering on-site support,” Harrington said. “I’m so excited it gives me goosebumps.”