Recent state statistics show nearly 90 percent of Ontario High School seniors graduate. During the last five years, Ontario High School's graduation rate has improved by more than 24 percent. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – The number of high school students graduating across Malheur County climbed in 2018, according to data released last week by the Oregon Department of Education.

Across Malheur County, 84.6 percent of the 383 students who were expected to graduate high school did so in 2018. That’s a jump of 2 percent from the 2017 graduating class.

The county’s overall graduation rate tops the state average of 78.7 percent. Like Malheur County, Oregon high schools saw an increase of two points from the previous year.

“It’s important to remember that we are talking about students, not statistics,” Colt Gill, Oregon Department of Education director, wrote in a press release last Thursday. “In this case, a two-point increase in graduation means an additional 950 students getting their diplomas within four years of starting high school.”

Additionally, there was an upward trend of graduation rates for Hispanic and migrant students in Malheur County. The graduation rate for Hispanic students is 83 percent, up from 80.6 percent the year before. Migrant students graduated at a rate of 84.5 percent in 2017-18. Their rates climbed from 76.5 percent the previous year. Among the school districts in Malheur County, Vale saw the largest jump from the previous year’s graduating class.

The four-year graduation rate at the school district – which includes Vale High School and the Oregon Trail Learning Academy alternative education program – now sits at 91.5 percent. That’s a significant improvement from the previous year, which was 19 points lower, at 72 percent.

The sudden increase at Vale, however, was due to changes in tracking student data, according to Vale Superintendent Alisha McBride.

“There was a transition last year,” said McBride. “There were systems that we needed to improve with data tracking.”

She said the staff have since analyzed the previous year’s data and have included a validation process in the district’s data tracking.

In addition, McBride credits district staff and the faculty at Vale High School working closely with students throughout the four years as a reason for the increased rates.

“Our staff collectively work very hard to track students and make sure that all our students graduate on time,” said McBride.

Individually, the two schools in the Vale School District saw their graduation rates go up. Vale High School graduated 93.4 percent of its seniors last year. Of the six students expected to graduate from Oregon Trail Learning Academy, the district’s alternative school, four graduated with a diploma, one received a GED and one didn’t finish.

The other high school in Malheur County to see graduation rates climb last year was Ontario High School, which saw 89.2 percent of seniors graduate. That’s up from the previous year, which was 88.76, adding another year of consistent increases in graduation rates at the high school. Over the last five years, Ontario High School’s graduation rate has improved 24.7 percentage points — from 64.5 percent in 2014 to nearly 90 percent in 2018.

At the district level, the Ontario School District saw the same graduation rate from the previous year, at 86.71 percent.

This rate includes students who graduated from Ontario High School and students at the alternative school.

Though most school districts in Malheur County saw an increase, some did not trend positively.

Nyssa School District, which saw 71.6 percent of its seniors graduate, dropped its graduation rate 12.76 points between 2017 and 2018.

“We believe there are multiple reasons why our rate went down,” wrote Nyssa Superintendent Jana Iverson in an email response about the district’s graduation rate.

Iverson didn’t elaborate on the reasons. The Nyssa School District has seen a 20 percent decrease in graduation rates between 2016 and 2018.

However, Iverson pointed out that the high school’s 2018 graduation rate included students who were previously counted under the district’s alternative school program.

“We are addressing the issue through the creation of a separate VP and AD position so that the VP will focus on attendance, graduation, and behavior,” said Iverson. “We have also hired a migrant graduation specialist through the migrant program who will work specifically with migrant students toward graduation.”

At the high school level, 73.26 percent of seniors at Nyssa High School graduated in 2018, down from 86 percent the previous year. On the other hand, Nyssa High graduated 86 percent of its fifth-year seniors last year.

However, that ranks last compared to other schools in the county who graduated fifth-year students.

In Adrian, the school district fell from a 100 percent graduation rate in 2017 to a rate of 88 percent in 2018.

That’s a drop of 11.54 percentage points from just a year.

Although that may look like a sharp decrease, it’s worth noting that Adrian’s graduating class in 2018 comprised only 26 students – three students received an Alternative Certificate, while the rest graduated with a traditional high school diploma.

The state Education Department also released dropout rates last week.

These numbers include students who transferred or left the school during the 2017-18 school year and students who didn’t enroll by October 2018.

Malheur County’s overall dropout rate is 1.58 percent, slightly up from last year’s 1.30 percent.

The school district with the highest dropout rate during the 2017-18 school year was Nyssa, whose overall rate was 4.6 percent, up slightly from 2.8 percent the year before. During the 2017-18 school year, 16 out of the 347 students at Nyssa High School dropped out.

Coming up second was Ontario School District, which saw seven of 694 students dropout. Six of Ontario’s dropouts were students in the district’s alternative school.

The state’s overall dropout rate dropout rate is 3.55 percent.

News tips? Reporter Kristine de Leon: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.