SALEM, OR — The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not focused on improving education for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs, though these programs account for nearly half the state’s high school dropouts, according to an audit released today by the Secretary of State’s office.
The alternative education audit follows an audit released Tuesday that examined Oregon’s low graduation rates and academically at-risk students in traditional high schools.
“Our graduation rate is one of the lowest in the country,” said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. “We have a moral and economic duty to ensure better results for our most academically at-risk students, regardless of the type of school they attend.”
ODE data suggests that many at-risk students enroll in alternative or online education after the start of the school year and when they may be relatively close to dropping out. As such, sharpening Oregon’s focus on at-risk students in alternative and online education settings would improve accountability, district oversight, and school and program performance. It would also benefit both at-risk students and the state’s economy.
Among the audit’s key findings:
- ODE has not adequately tracked and reported on the performance of alternative schools and programs. As a result, the state lacks critical information about school and program effectiveness.
- Enhanced state monitoring and support and more robust district oversight could improve results for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs.
- Some states hold districts and alternative schools and programs to higher standards and provide more support to help at-risk students succeed.
- Other states also increase oversight of fast-growing online schools. In contrast to these states, Oregon’s laws allow online schools to rapidly increase enrollment regardless of their performance.
The auditors’ work included researching practices in other states, visiting schools, and surveying Oregon’s school districts.
The audit recommends ODE should develop a more meaningful accountability system for alternative and online schools, establish and monitor standards for crucial practices such as annual evaluations of these schools and programs, and strengthen attendance and funding standards for online schools.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure at-risk students are getting the educational opportunities they deserve,” said Richardson. “Our Audit indicates a need to further understand why students are failing to graduate; track special funding for these high risk students; and develop options to assist struggling students in obtaining the necessary educational foundation that will serve them and their communities throughout their lives.”
The audit focused only on the effectiveness for at-risk students. Alternative schools and programs and online schools also serve students that are not academically at-risk.