Health & Education

On-time graduation rates dip for Native students

10.14.2021 Danielle Harrison Education, Graduation

By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

WILLAMINA -- High school graduation rates decreased for Native American students in Willamina amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  

According to individual school district numbers released by the Oregon Department of Education on Thursday, Oct. 7, Native American 2019-20 on-time graduation rates at Willamina High School were 73 percent, a drop from 88 percent the year before the pandemic shuttered schools.

Statewide, Native American on-time graduation rates for 2020 is at 67.2 percent, down half a percentage point from the year before.

Officials say the dips are not unexpected given the sudden pivot to distance learning that occurred in March 2020 and continued for most students through much of the 2020-21 school year.

“The pandemic played a significant role in our rates dipping in all areas,” Willamina School District Superintendent Carrie Zimbrick said. “In addition, we had a smaller senior class last year, 54 students.”

Zimbrick said that there is typically a difference in the state’s graduation rates and her records because of how students self-identify on the enrollment forms, which is what the state uses to track racial and ethnic data.

“My records show that 85 percent of our Native students received a diploma. The problem is that many of our students that have 506 forms (forms to determine Native American school population for federal funding purposes) do not identify as (such) on the school registration form. Therefore, they are not counted toward our (Native American) subgroup for (state) accountability.”

Willamina has the largest Native American student population in the area, with approximately 40 percent of students identifying as such, and most of those students are Grand Ronde Tribal members or descendants.

The overall Willamina on-time graduation rate stands at 84 percent, slightly above the statewide rate of 82.6 percent, which is also the highest graduation rate ever recorded in Oregon.

Students who take career and technical education classes have consistently higher graduation rates across all ethnic and racial groups. Statewide, those figures are 87.4 percent for Native American students and 93.5 percent across all ethnic groups.

Willamina High School has two full-time CTE instructors and classes include welding, construction, drones, woodworking, small engine repair, horticulture, agricultural science, veterinary science and robotics.    

Going forward, the district is focused on meeting students where they are and addressing unfinished learning.

“Our kids have not had full-day, in-person instruction for more than 18 months, so getting back to routines and embracing the lessons learned is important,” Zimbrick said.

This past summer, the district offered a summer credit recovery program. There is also an afterschool program for academic support and a Monday schedule for sixth through 12th grade that supports unfinished learning.

“At the elementary we have added staff to our reading intervention program to support unfinished learning,” Zimbrick said. “We also will be focusing on building relationships with students and families to support all needs of our community, particularly health, safety, well-being and re-building academic stamina. One thing we can all agree on is not adding more to the already full plates of our students and staff. We want to focus on what is most important and give kids opportunities to demonstrate learning and knowledge in multiple ways.”

The school district profiles contain previously released graduation data for the class of 2020 as well as profiles for the 2020-21 school year, including student and teacher race and ethnicity, on-time graduation for the class of 2020 and college going rates for the class of 2018.

“The 2020-21 school year was unlike any other our state has ever faced, but the strength, resiliency and resolve of students, families and educators saw us through,” said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. “We’re relying on that same strength and resolve during our first few months of school as our educators focus on minimizing COVID-19 and connecting with students to support their mental health. Oregon’s schools are ready, eager and committed to serving our students. Data is key to tell us how to better invest and serve students and we look forward to using this year’s profiles to continue focusing on diversifying and strengthening our educator workforce and providing all students the supports they need to graduate.”

To view district profiles, visit