Philomath High's Class of 2022 enters Clemens Field for last spring's graduation ceremony. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School’s graduation rate continued its annual trend of performing well above the state average, according to data released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education.

The local school’s four-year cohort graduation rate came in last year at 89.2% — nearly 8 percentage points above the state average and down slightly from the 91.1% in 2020-21.

“The high school numbers, I think, are well within reason in that there was like a 2 percentage point shift (from the previous year),” Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said. “We have to remember that 2021 was coming out of comprehensive distance learning and 2021-22 was when we were back in school for the first time.”

The term “cohort” refers to students that started and ended high school together.

Statewide, the high school graduation rate saw a modest increase last year to the second highest in state history. Oregon’s four-year cohort graduation rate in 2021-22 was 81.3%, an increase over the previous year’s 80.6% and a little lower than the all-time high of 82.6% in 2019-20.

At neighboring high schools, the four-year graduation rates included Crescent Valley (94.1%), West Albany (92.1%), Corvallis (87.4%), Monroe (85.2%), South Albany (84.1%) and Alsea (57.5%).

“I’m kind of excited about what the future holds now that we’ve moved out of the comprehensive distance learning cycle,” Halliday said.

The school district’s numbers in their entirety dropped from 89.8% to 77.6% — those statistics including Philomath Academy and Kings Valley Charter School. Philomath Academy among its offerings are credit recovery courses and the rural campus at KVCS has a small high school student population.

Halliday said Philomath Academy saw a significant drop under the circumstances seen in the alternative school’s second year.

“That’s where the numbers game can grab you and what purposes are in what you’re seeing,” Halliday said. “This is only the second year of the Philomath Academy, so I’m not surprised that it took that kind of a dip as it’s getting its start in being able to grow through its purpose and really be able to help students get back on track.”

The Kings Valley class size is so small that even if only a couple of students struggle, the percentage is thrown off.

“In those instances, we really have to look at individual students and be able to make some determinations,” Halliday said

The higher number of students in the Philomath School District opting for General Educational Development diplomas also had an impact on the statistical analysis, she said.

“In 2020-21, I think it was four students that earned a GED and in ’21-22, we had 16,” Halliday said. “GEDs don’t count in a four-year cohort completer rate.”

Halliday said a number of juniors and seniors in 2020-21 took jobs to earn money while continuing school through the online technology that had been provided.

“When it came time to come back to school in ’21-22, it’s a little hard to keep your job and go to school full-time in the time constraints of a class,” she said. “We also had kids that came off comprehensive distance learning who were credit deficient. So we had more to do to make up for credit deficiencies.”

Halliday said that in essence, Philomath Academy is doing its job in the area of helping students make up those deficiencies.

“They’re doing what they were intended to do in terms of being able to take students who had deficient credits and needed a different path to be able to help them out,” she said. “So I anticipate that we’ll see increases into the following year.”

The Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District has provided support from the Center for High School Success program.

“Its full purpose is to be able to actively and consistently take a look at students who are at-risk of not completing high school on time and what are those factors that are most predictive of that and what can we do to change that,” Halliday said. “That has been an incredible help with staff meeting consistently to talk about kids and make sure we’re targeting those individuals for whom we can do things that will help them stay on track to graduate.”

In a letter Halliday sent to staff on Thursday morning with the ODE’s data release, she provided her perspective on the numbers and thanked all of those involved with educating students. She also added, “I want to challenge each of us to commit to making change for even one student for the remainder of the school year. This is why we do what we do.”

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.