Vale trails state in high school attendance

This chart shows the regular attendance rates for local high schools, and the state rate. Vale district officials say their showing is hurt by strong participation in extracurricular activities.

VALE – New state data shows a stark disparity between the regular attendance rate at Vale High School and the schools in the rest of the county. 

According to the Oregon Department of Education, Vale had the lowest attendance rate in the county last year, with the percentage of average student attendance in at 60%. That is a 14% decrease from the previous school year.

Across the state, an average 80% of high school students regularly attended school. 

In Malheur County, the highest high school rate of regular attendance last year was logged by Jordan Valley, with a rate of 95%. 

The Vale School District as a whole clocked in with 82% for regular attendance, while the state average is 83%. 

Mary Jo Sharp, Vale High School principal, declined an interview, referring questions to Superintendent Alisha McBride.

In a written statement, McBride attributed the disparity to the high percentage of students involved in extracurricular activities as well as the methods used by the state to measure attendance. 

The report card data from the state only includes data for regular attendance, and numbers for chronic absenteeism, another key state measure, will be released at a later date. 

The state defines regular attenders as students who attend school on more than 90% of the days they are enrolled. 

State officials explained why measuring regular attendance is important. 


Marnie Jewell, education specialist at the state Education Department, said attendance data relates to “our student achievement in lower grades as well as graduation rates.”  

“First of all, research shows that when students do not attend or have problems with chronic absenteeism there is an effect on reading and ultimately graduating,” Jewell said. “Those are the questions we ask districts to ask themselves, but that is exactly what this work is meant to do, to have districts take a look at what their data says.”

Jewell said schools are tasked with considering what might be contributing to lower attendance rates, and then planning to address barriers that might be preventing students from getting to school.

“Attendance is what we call achievement related data, it is not the grade received. It is associated with achievement,” she said.

 “We want schools to look at their attendance data as being achievement data,” Jewell said. 

She said schools should attempt to isolate the cause of any barriers that keep students from getting to school.

In an email to the Enterprise, McBride provided an explanation for the low percentage of students who attend school at Vale High School on a regular basis. 

McBride said that the state defines chronic absence when a student misses 10% of the school year, but that this includes excused and unexcused absences. 

“As a result, students were previously considered ‘absent’ even if they were participating in school-sponsored excused extracurricular activities,” McBride said. 

“Over 80% of the students enrolled at Vale High School participate in extracurricular activities,” McBride said. 

“We are very proud of the fact that so many of our students are involved in extracurricular activities, as it contributes to higher graduation rates, enhances school pride, and provides students with diverse experiences.” 

McBride blamed the “accounting methods” used by the state of Oregon that she said “unintentionally penalized schools with high student participation in extracurricular activities.” 

One example McBride brought up was if a student was involved in athletics and engaged in FFA competitions, that student would miss enough school days to be categorized as chronically absent. 

“While it is important that students are in the classroom, some of our best and most involved students were considered chronically absent under the reporting criteria,” McBride added.

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected].

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