You probably read the recent newspaper articles reporting graduation rates in Oregon high schools, including in our district. Hillsboro once again did very well, with small increases in grad rates in 3 of the 4 main high schools, leading to a 1.26% increase overall. This is excellent news, and reflective of multiple HSD programs providing active outreach and assistance to struggling students who might otherwise be on track for failure. However, we need to be a bit cautious here: if you think about it, you can increase graduation rates by lowering standards as well as by educating students. You may recall that last year a departing teacher made a number of critical comments about the district, which I summarized in my blog . One of his major concerns was a lack of standards in the credit recovery system, based on an online tool called “Plato”. In the last few months, I followed up and took a closer look at our credit recovery program.
To start with, if you just look at the Plato system in isolation, I can indeed see why there was a serious concern. This system is much more bare-bones than the “real” online classes largely used by our Online Academy (which you may have seen me praise in the past ), sometimes amounting to little more than an extended outline plus a 20-question multiple-choice test for each major unit. So I followed up by meeting with Assistant Superintendent Travis Reiman, along with teacher Jeff Gower, who runs the credit recovery at one of our schools. I was very impressed after speaking with Jeff. He explained that Plato is just one tool, and that the real goal of credit recovery is to work with the subject-area teachers and find appropriate ways for a student to demonstrate mastery after they have been failing under the standard instructional methods. Some of these students just need some individualized attention and coaching, and are not truly incapable of absorbing the material— it is just hard for a subject-area teacher with hundreds of students to properly identify and address their unique issues. He shared some success stories of students who were able to return to the regular classroom after catching up in the credit recovery program. As to the question fo whether this involves lowering standards to rubber-stamp students through to graduation, Jeff pointed out that each year a number of students in his program fail to achieve mastery and are not granted credit. After speaking to Jeff, I am much more confident that our credit recovery program has solid goals and processes, and is doing the right thing for our students.
Now, we need to remain vigilant for several reasons. I only had a limited amount to time to look into the credit recovery program, so if you are a student or teacher who has been involved in this area, I would love to hear more about your experiences, positive or negative. Also, of course, issues like credit recovery and graduation rates only show that our district is doing well at keeping the students near the bottom from dropping out, and do not really say anything about how well we educate the rest of our students. To truly claim that HSD is a high-achieving district, we also need evidence that academic achievement is rising, both for average and top students. (As I have mentioned before in my blog, this has been made harder by the redesign of curriculum and standardized tests in the past few years under Common Core.) I would really like to see our district start to appear at the top of academic rankings, providing solid evidence that all our students are well-served, including the ones at the top, middle, and bottom. But for now, I’m joining the rest of the HSD community in congratulating our staff for its exceptional achievement in once again increasing our graduation rates.