- Associated Press - Thursday, January 24, 2019

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Former English language learners - including immigrant kids - had among the highest high school graduation rates in Oregon, while statewide the rate increased by 2 percent, reaching closer to the national average.

For the 2017-2018 class, the graduation rate was 78.7 percentage points, marking the fifth straight year it has gone up but still almost 6 points off last year’s national average.

Gov. Kate Brown commended the results. She noted that she has a $2 billion education investment package, in addition to her base budget, in her proposed state budget that would require some type of tax increase.

“To build on this progress, I am dedicated to re-investing in our schools to bring them back to a level we can be proud of,” Brown said in a statement.

Also Thursday, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success released its recommendations, and said schools receiving new investments must demonstrate how their expenditures will help students of color, low-income students, English language learners, students with disabilities and rural students. The committee said those students have fewer educational opportunities.

“It is our belief that Oregon must do more to ensure that the 580,000 children enrolled in our schools are receiving a first-class education,” wrote Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, the committee co-chairs.

The committee’s leaders proposed a system of targeted investments based on progress toward outcomes, increased accountability and cost containment.

For the first time, the Oregon Department of Education listed the graduation rate for students who had attended an English language leaner program before high school, but not while in high school. Their graduation rate was 82.5 percent.

“The asset of bilingualism is highlighted by the fact that students who exited English Learner programs before high school graduate at a rate nearly 4 percentage points higher than the statewide average,” the department said. It credited educators’ hard work in welcoming and helping students with non-English speaking backgrounds.

The education department’s 2016-7 report had a different measurement for English Learners, looking at the graduation rate for students regardless of when they exited the programs. That graduation rate was only 74 percent.

In the most recent national report, covering the 2016-17 school year, the graduation rate in America was 84.6 percent. Oregon’s lagged for that period at 76.7 percent. Oregon will be able to see where it ranks nationally when the next report comes out.

Department of Education spokesman Marc Siegel said the state has stringent credit requirements to graduate, asserting that makes it difficult to compare Oregon to other states. Each state also sets its own standards for determining which students transferred out or dropped out, he said.

In other findings released Thursday, the graduation rate in Oregon for Asian students was 90.6 percent; for African American students 68 percent; homeless students 54.1 percent; Latino students 74.6 percent; and career technical education 88.1 percent.

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