Oregon’s high school graduation rate, about 80%, is abysmal. Yet taken at face value, one report on efforts to fix the problem could lead you to believe the state Department of Education doesn’t much care. That would be a mistake.

The report is a follow-up to an audit by the Secretary of State’s Office on the Department of Education’s efforts to beef up high school graduation rates. The audit, issued in December 2017, said more focus on at-risk students and better coordination between middle and high school efforts, among other things, were needed. It made 13 recommendations, all of which DOE agreed with.

Wednesday, 16 months after the original audit, only three of those 13 recommendations have been put in place. Progress has been made on another four, and little has been accomplished on the remaining six. ODE management said lack of money and staff was to blame for much of the problem. It also noted that, while the audit emphasized efforts to improve middle school performance, ODE must focus on things that help all K-12 students.

Unfortunately, this is the second follow-up review the Secretary of State’s Office has issued this year on ODE’s efforts to improve K-12 education, and the results in both have been similarly bleak. It would be easy to read the pair and come away thinking ODE is treating the audits more like annoying gnats than attempts to help it improve K-12 education.

The department argues it simply does not have the money needed to make serious progress on most of the incomplete recommendations. Also, a recommendation which would have the department gather and analyze grade and credit information, would need approval from the Legislature, the report says. A bill giving that approval died in the 2017 Legislature.

Legislators need to follow up to give the department the authority it needs. Also, they should demand proof that a lack of money is really the reason the department has not made more progress.

23021672