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Legislature working on bill to track college grad rates

Legislators say bill is intended to accelerate reporting information that should have been part of a state initiative to set up a statewide data system to track students' progress from preschool to postsecondary school.

CAPITAL BUREAU - Legislators are working on a bill to collect data on college graduation rates of Oregon high school graduates.SALEM — A bill awaiting Senate approval would require public universities to report the number of students from each Oregon high school and their college graduation rates.

Legislators said the bill was intended to accelerate reporting information that should have been part of a state initiative to set up a statewide data system to track students' progress from preschool to postsecondary school.

The information is important for school officials to gauge how they are doing in preparing pupils for college, said Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, the chief sponsor of the bill. The data also could help state education officials and lawmakers understand where they need to invest money and time to improve the state's high school graduation rate, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

"There are national data that track student enrollment. We know how many are enrolling (in Oregon public postsecondary institutions), but we can't trace them back to the school of origin here in Oregon," Johnson said last month.

"How are those students matriculating through the system? Where do they do well? Where do they have roadblocks?"

The House of Representatives and Senate both passed the bill unanimously. But changes during a conference committee to reconcile differences in the two versions of the bill still need approval. The House checked off on those changes Monday. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the changes Tuesday

.The governor, who holds the title of state schools chief, has identified "a seamless system of education from cradle to career" as one of her priorities. Yet, the longitudinal data system, a project of the Chief Education Office, has not been completed in the past several years.

"The longitudinal data system has been promised to us since 2011," Johnson said. "It's still not up and running."

During a Senate debate on the bill May 8, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, asked why a bill was necessary to facilitate information sharing between education agencies.

"With our current appalling graduation rate and all of the money we've spent on this longitudinal data system, why does the Legislature have to pass a bill to achieve cooperative data sharing between the Department of Education, school districts and HECC (Higher Education Coordinating Commission)?" Sen. Johnson asked.

The clearinghouse of data the Oregon Department of Education uses to provide graduation information lacks the students' originating districts, said Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.

"This doesn't allow us to make the comparisons across the state about how our students are being prepared," Roblan said last month.

Postsecondary institutions will be required to report students' originating district and graduation rates to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. The HECC, in turn, will share that information with ODE, which will share it with individual school districts, Roblan said.

A HECC spokeswoman said higher education institutions would be able to comply with the rules, if the bill is signed into law. ODE was neutral on the bill, said a spokeswoman for the K-12 department.

"This could be accomplished by the long-awaited longitudinal data system, but that is not yet completed," Roblan said.

About $6.5 million for the longitudinal data system was approved during the 2016 legislative session, state Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps said.

The project kicked off in July 2016 with an 18-month schedule and is scheduled for completion by this year's end, Capps wrote in an email to the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau.

The system was originally conceived as a project of the now defunct Oregon Education Innovation Board, launched by Gov. John Kitzhaber, Rep. Johnson said.

The system will include data from ODE, HECC, the Early Learning Division and the Oregon Employment Department and will provide "a comprehensive view of aggregated history from K-20 into the workforce," Capps wrote.