Graduation may be at the very end of the school year, but the work towards it starts now, at the beginning. It’s like a race, a marathon instead of a sprint, where graduation is the finish line and the trophies are diplomas. However, it is not so much about who is going to finish first anymore, but who is going to finish at all.
Using Siuslaw School District’s most recent graduation rate, in a race of 10 people, only eight students would see it through to the end — two of them would never get to see the finish line.
To count as a graduate, students must have earned or been awarded either a standard or modified diploma. Students who have earned an extended diploma, returned for a fifth year, or completed their GED (General Educational Development certificate) do not count as graduating students. Deceased students, or those who have transferred out, are not counted in the graduation rate at all.
All that considered, for the 2016-17 school year, Siuslaw High School had a graduation rate of 84.7 percent, according to high school counselor Steven Moser. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not yet publicly released a full statement for any schools for the 2016-17 year, and instead considers its most recent data to be from the 2015-16 year.
According to the ODE, 2015-2016’s graduation rate was 72.28 percent, only slightly lower than the Oregon state average of 74.83 percent. Oregon had the fourth worst rate in the entire United States. Siuslaw's near 85 percent, however, marks a significant improvement in what has become a trend of rising graduation rates.
In that race of 10 students, however, there are still two that aren’t making it to the end, and these are the youth that especially should not be left behind. Either of the two students may have given up, either lacking the skill or motivation to see it through. Something out of their control may have happened, something that hindered or even seriously hurt them. Or they could have found a different path along the way.
More students are graduating, but for those who are not, school is still as imposing a challenge as ever.
“I ended up getting a GED,” said a local teen, who asked to remain anonymous.. “The teachers recommended it to me after it was very apparent to them that I was not going to get out of the hole I dug myself.”
Over time, the student realized that it was no one single thing that led to being unable to graduate — no one assignment, test or absence. Instead, it was a constant barrage of those issues, and most often a combination of all of them.
“I thought I would be able to dig myself out of the bad hole that I was in at the time,” the student explained. “By about halfway through [senior year], it just became very apparent that it was not going to happen.
“I was missing some classes, and then it started piling up with more work, and no one really wanted to help me with that, either. ... It just kind of cascaded into a mess that I knew was not going to work out.”
A combination of many issues can lead students to not graduating, but those issues can start early in a student’s career.
For the school administration, the beginning of senior year is not early enough to start thinking about graduation — it has to be much sooner.
“The idea is to focus in and make sure our freshmen, our sophomores, even our eighth-graders over at the middle school are learning the skills are prepared as best they can,” Moser said. “I think it’s really a system of making sure that students are getting their seven or so credits a year, so by the time they hit their senior year, they’re already at twenty or twenty one credits, and really only needing the last couple of English or government credits.”
The anonymous student agreed that help from the school was vital when they found they couldn’t control their issues with school on their own.
“I had a couple of teachers here and there that offered assistance, and that’s why I did pass their classes,” the student said. “But some didn’t help, and that’s why I started flunking those classes, and that’s why it went really badly. They needed to actually give me that extra push. I don’t mean that I needed their undivided attention, I just mean that they needed to give me some sort of attention to help with those issues that I was falling behind with.”
At the end of the day, however, Moser said students’ welfare needed to be addressed, not just the statistic of graduation rates. The full focus now is on the students affected, and whatever would be best for them.
“GEDS don’t necessarily improve our graduation rate, but ultimately, it’s what’s going to be best for the student,” said Moser. “I’ll always try to go for the regular diploma, just because I think it’s the best possible outcome for the years that students have spent at school, but I’ll never count out the GED as a possible option for a student.”
A GED is sufficient enough to be accepted by two year colleges, such as Lane Community College. High enough of a score on the GED test may also qualify a student for certain four-year colleges, as well.
“I want to try to get into college,” the anonymous student said. “I’m thinking something along the lines of Portland State University, or maybe Lane Community College here in Florence. At either one of those two, I can get some interesting classes.”
“I think that’s a big thing with the system that’s been created here,” Moser said. “There’s not just a ‘one size fits all’ education anymore.”