PHS graduation 2017 (copy)

Philomath High School's Class of 2017 toss mortarboards into the air June 3 at Clemens Field.

The state of Oregon last week released its latest batch of statistics showing the percentage of high school students who graduated in four years.

Statewide, the number of students who graduated in four years at the end of the 2016-17 school year was 76.7 percent, which represents nearly a 2 percent increase from the year before. (And, in fact, the statewide rate has been on a modest upswing the last four years.)

In Linn County, the graduation rate dropped a bit, from 76.2 percent to 74.8 percent. So Linn County overall lags a bit behind the state average.

Of course, it's worth remembering the backdrop for all of these graduation numbers: The state's high school graduation rate remains among the lowest in the nation, and this in a state that is counting on education as a route to prosperity. And the state still seeks to have 100 percent of its high school students graduate by the time we reach the year 2025.

In other words, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to close our high school graduation gap. We're don't appear to be stuck in reverse, but it certainly doesn't appear that we're racing to 100 percent rates — or, for that matter, even into the 90th percentile, which still would mean that 1 of every 10 Oregon students doesn't graduate from high school in a four-year period.

The good news is that this year's numbers suggest one way to increase those graduation rates going forward: Consistently in the state, and in both Benton and Linn counties, students who took even a minimum of career and technical education courses graduated at a higher rate than students who skipped those classes altogether.

The state sliced and diced the graduation statistics to take a look at those students it termed "CTE participants" — which is to say, students who took a half-credit of those career and technical education classes. If a student took a full credit or more of those classes, she was dubbed a "CTE concentrator," which is exactly the kind of verbage that education experts love to create. 

Regardless of the verbage, the trend in the statistics was encouraging: In general, even students who had taken a bare minimum of career and technical education classes were somewhat more likely to graduate in four years than were students who didn't take any of those classes. And students who had taken a full credit or more of those classes generally were even more likely to graduate in four years. 

If this is ringing a vague bell for you, it might be because this was one of the key arguments that proponents of Ballot Measure 98 were making in the 2016 election. You'll recall that Measure 98, which passed easily, forces the state to to spend money on career and technical education programs, along with two other areas. The idea behind the initiative was that focusing on those three areas would help improve the state's dismal graduation rate.

We had reservations at the time about Measure 98, but those reservations focused mostly on the fact that the measure did not come with a dedicated source of funding. But, even then, we believed that the programs the measure sought to fund had an excellent chance of improving graduation rates.

The statistics released last week by the state seem to support that belief. As as state officials and legislators look to find ways to continue driving graduation rates, these new statistics offer additional evidence of the value of career and technical education.


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