Student attendance, graduation rates down since pandemic, state analysis finds

A new analysis of data from Oregon schools during the 2021-22 school year shows statewide school staffing levels are rebounding from pandemic declines, but on-time graduation rates have dropped and chronic absenteeism remains a problem.

On Thursday, the Oregon Department of Education released its “At-A-Glance” profiles from the last school year, which provides the clearest view yet of how Oregon schools have come out of the pandemic.

It includes the results of standardized tests, along with profiles on students and staff in each school and district. It also shows the percentage of Oregon seniors who graduated within four years, and the percentage of ninth graders who are on track to graduate from high school within four years. 

The percentage of Oregon students who graduated on time in 2021 was nearly 81%, down from pre-pandemic levels of 85% in the class of 2019.

The data shows 83% percent of the class of 2025 is on track to graduate on time, meaning they’ve completed at least one-quarter of the credits they need to graduate within four years. This is similar to pre-pandemic levels. 

In a news conference on Wednesday, Tim Boyd, director of district and school effectiveness at the education department, characterized the data as a “check engine light.”

“It’s going to tell us where we have opportunities for improvement,” he said. 

While many districts still struggle with staffing shortages, statewide school staffing averages have rebounded and surpassed pre-pandemic levels, according to the data. This includes teaching staff and counselors. The number of counselors employed by schools is up 20% statewide from the 2018-19 school year. 

Jon Wiens, the education department’s director of accountability, said at the news conference that this is reflective of investments from the state’s Student Succeeds Act and federal Covid relief dollars, which were used to hire more mental health support staff. 

Chronic absenteeism, defined as a student missing 10% or more of school days, was up from pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, about 20% of students were chronically absent. Last year, more than 35% of students were so.

But, Wiens said, attendance numbers were heavily affected by Covid surges in the fall, winter and spring.

Results from standardized tests last year reflect declines in student proficiency in core subjects.

Though participation was down from pre-pandemic levels, at least 85% of Oregon students took the tests. Results on average across the seven grades tested – 3rd through 8th – showed student proficiency had declined nearly 10% in English and about 9% in math from pre-pandemic levels.

Those results reflect a nationwide trend showing student learning was hurt by the pandemic, which included months of online classes. 

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Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.