PPS report card shows signs of hope
The report cards are out. No, not for students, but for districts all over Oregon.
The annual data dump from the Oregon Department of Education is a treasure trove of information about the state's 197 districts. The report covers graduation rates and standardized test passing rates for students, but also facts on the student bodies' racial makeups, percentages of low-income students, and much more.
As a district, Portland Public Schools academically fared reasonably well compared to neighboring districts in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties.
For example, according to the data, we may continue to see PPS graduation rates steadily climb. Nearly 91 percent of freshman are considered on-track to graduate, 7.4 percentage points more than were expected to graduate in 2013-14. That's more than all the districts in the region except Lake Oswego and Riverdale.
But the district's high school students are struggling to meet state standards. Juniors in PPS did worse than one would expect, even adjusting for demographics, on science, math and language arts tests. Perhaps either a cause or an effect of this phenomenon is the percentage of the district's students who are moving in and out of schools at this age. Almost 19 percent of the district's high school students entered or left their school mid-year. That is significantly higher than for younger students and the highest rate for a district in the region. By comparison, the Lake Oswego School District, directly south, had only 6 percent of its high schoolers move schools or leave.
Nearly half of PPS children are considered low-income. For the 2016-17 school year, that would mean a family of four living on $44,955. In Parkrose, a small school district in northeastern Portland, just about all the students qualify as low-income. In Riverdale, a small school district to the south, it's just the opposite: There are so few students who qualify as low-income that the Department of Education suppresses that information in the data release to avoid identification of those students.
Parkrose has the highest drop-out rate in the region at 6.6 percent in 2015-16. That's nearly double the rate of similarly low-income east county districts David Douglas and Centennial. PPS's dropout rate is 4 percent while the similarly sized Beaverton School District is at just 1.6 percent.
Portland Public Schools' administrative equity efforts — a legacy of former Superintendent Carole Smith — seems to have paid off at least in part. Black staffers make up 3-4 percent of the district's schools, while Hispanic staff members make up to 9 percent of education employees in the district's more than 80 schools. While still far from mirroring the percentages of students of color, the urban district has far more nonwhite staff members (a total of about 20 percent) than other regional districts. According to the state's figures, Riverdale has no educational employees of color and most districts have fewer than 10 percent. The Beaverton School District is the only one that comes close with about 12 percent.
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