Oregon districts seek state money to improve attendance/ reduce drop-outs

School districts throughout Oregon are aiming for a share of about $170 million in new state support to address the needs of high school students with poor attendance rates who are at-risk of dropping out.

The plans are expected to explain how districts will use the money to improve student outcomes–something voters signaled needed more attention when they overwhelmingly passed Measure 98 in 2016.

The measure directed the Legislature to provide at least $800 per high school student each year for the expansion of career and technical education, college-level curriculum and dropout prevention.

“The ballot measure was written to support students for whom the current system isn’t working,” explained Meg Boyd, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education. “They are being asked to take a hard look at their current systems and how they can expand or establish systems that can work for all students.”

While many states have struggled to get a handle on the high numbers of students who were chronically absent–or who missed at least 10 percent of the school year–Oregon had an especially deep hole to climb out of. Due to numerous factors, the state traditionally had among the highest rates of student absenteeism nationally.

A 2014 report from the Oregonian found that nearly one in five students in the state missed at least 10 percent of the school year—that’s about 100,000 students that missed upwards of three weeks of school.

And, leading up to the passage of Measure 98, Oregon also had among the lowest graduation rates in the nation, hovering at under 69 percent.

Two years after ballot measure was approved, lawmakers, education officials and community organizations are working to help schools improve dropout prevention efforts and reduce chronic absenteeism rates across the state.

To receive a cut of that $170 million, districts, charter schools and Education Service Districts must submit a plan showing that they will:

  • Implement district-wide, evidence-based programs to reduce chronic absenteeism in high school;
  • Give teachers and school staff formal time to review student data on grades, absences and discipline records;
  • Establish systems to ensure that all high school students, including English language learners, are taking courses required for on-time graduation; and
  • Prepare an implementation plan.

Spending will need to prioritize those targeted at-risk students, and districts need to explain how expanding or creating new programs will support those subgroups.

The state education department said districts have a lot of discretion over the strategies and programs, but that Multi-Tiered Systems of Support are recommended as among the best practices for dropout prevention and improving chronic absenteeism.

Key elements of an MTSS framework include:

  • A data system to allow daily access to attendance and related data sources;
  • Universal screening to determine which students need support;
  • Cross-sector team-based problem-solving; and
  • And continuous progress monitoring for students needing additional support.

District leaders have until the end of March to submit their plans to the Oregon Department of Education.