New COE program will help state boost high school grad rates

Classroom scene

The UO’s College of Education is embarking on a new initiative to bolster student success at high schools across Oregon.

The Oregon Research Schools Network will leverage research and expertise from the College of Education and collaborators throughout the University of Oregon to create long-term partnerships with public high schools throughout Oregon, with the goal of improving student educational outcomes both during and after high school.

“I think that we can learn the lessons from our land-grant university system about how to create a long-standing and high-impact university outreach program for improving education,” said UO College of Education Dean Randy Kamphaus. “We have a plan to become the first college of education in the nation to offer service, instruction and research statewide through establishment of the Oregon Research Schools Network. Just as ag extension helps farmers produce better crops, we will improve the academic and career outcomes for youth across our state.”

The new initiative will forge partnerships between the UO and a group of high schools, where College of Education faculty members will work with educators and administrators from each school to make data-driven decisions about how to improve student performance and graduation rates. This will involve identifying the most pressing challenges for each school and then using UO research and expertise to design strategic interventions to address these issues, largely through professional development for educators.

The initial group of high schools that will be partnering with the UO for the 2018-19 academic year include North Eugene High School; Roosevelt High School in Portland; Coquille High School, which is about 20 miles south of Coos Bay; and Pendleton High School in Eastern Oregon.

The university envisions expanding the program to as many as 10 high schools during the five-year pilot program. As the UO forms partnerships with additional high schools, the plan is to continue prioritizing schools with high proportions of first-generation and underrepresented students.

Each school will have an embedded clinical professor to help oversee implementation of the programming, so the UO can remain involved from conception to outcome assessment. 

“Most public school systems do not have a continuous framework for improvement through professional development or a way to gauge whether any programming that does exist is actually working,” said Sol Joye, clinical professor for the Oregon Research Schools Network. “One of the most important goals for the Oregon Research Schools Network is to fill in these gaps by using evidence-based practices to create a framework for professional development implementation, measurement and refinement, so we can help teachers increase student achievement and graduation rates through more effective instruction.”

Many state leaders and education advocates have prioritized tackling Oregon’s statewide graduation rate, which improved to 77 percent from 75 percent in 2017, but the rate remains well below the national average of 84 percent. For the last two years, Oregon has been ranked third-lowest in the country, with nearly 1 in 4 students not graduating in four years.

Joye believes the initiative could help more Oregonians earn their diplomas, but he also stresses that it will take time and patience to see tangible results, and the program will not offer a silver bullet solution or one-size-fits-all roadmap to student success. Instead, the UO will develop plans that address each school’s unique challenges.

“The low graduation rate in Oregon is a complex problem with no easy solution,” Joye said. “It will require multifaceted approaches to move the needle, but that’s what ORSN is designed to do.”

It is the collaborative nature of the program, and its focus on creating strategies catered to the unique demands and learning environment of each school, that position it to stand out from other partnerships between research institutions and public schools, Joye explains.

While the professional development programming will be designed to address each school’s individualized needs, the goal is to also offer widespread benefits to educators across the state. The content will be digitized and available through an online platform so teachers can access the information and use it as an opportunity to connect with colleagues around Oregon.

“One of the greatest strengths of these professional development tools is that they will be created in partnership with teachers and also refined by teachers as educators use them, measure their success and provide feedback over time,” Joye said. “This will be a deep reservoir of really effective and constantly evolving evidence-based tools that can help educators at schools all over the state.”

Another core component of the Oregon Research Schools Network will be field-initiated research projects, which will target issues that schools don’t have the bandwidth to address themselves, like chronic absenteeism or high rates of trauma.

The program will recruit faculty and researchers from the College of Education and the UO to apply their expertise to such issues. If relevant research doesn’t already exist, UO researchers will create and execute new studies to develop an evidence-based intervention that could be implemented in schools.

That could benefit both the high schools and the UO, Joye explains, as faculty members could use the studies as an opportunity to collect data and feedback to inform future research and research-inspired innovations.

The last pillar of the Oregon Research Schools Network is dual credit high school and college coursework, which will be the first organized and sustained pathway for high school students to earn dual credit at the UO.

“Dual credit gives students personal agency with their education,” Joye said. “It empowers them to envision themselves as college students and helps them see the value of higher education.”

By Emily Halnon, University Communications