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Oregon has third lowest graduation rate in country for second straight year

Robotics class in a Bethel School District classroom, Dec. 13, 2017. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- For the second year in a row, Oregon has the third lowest graduation rate in the country, above Nevada and New Mexico.

Just 74.8 percent of Oregon high school seniors earned diplomas in 2016.

The Bethel School District is tackling low graduation rates by adding more career technical education classes.

This month, the Oregon Department of Education awarded 205 Oregon schools career readiness grants from the Oregon Department of Education totaling $10.3 million.

Bethel schools received $332,181 to expand CTE to 8th graders at four Bethel middle schools. The after-school program, set to begin in September, will include robotics, digital media, and culinary arts.

"They can actually practice a career while they're in school," said Bethel Superintendent Chris Parra. "That is so incredibly powerful for a student."

Sergio Chinchilla, an 11th grader at Willamette High School, is currently enrolled in a robotics class where he gets to practice his engineering skills. He said he wants to attend Oregon State University after he graduates.

"I want to graduate with an aerospace engineering degree, and go work for some place like Boeing," Chinchilla said.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, graduation rates for students in Oregon CTE programs are 15.5 percent higher than the statewide average.

Parra said low graduation rates are partly due to a lack of funding. She also said unlike other states, Oregon students must pass an exit exam before they can graduate, and they face tougher math requirements.

According to the most recent state-wide report card, last year just 34 percent of 11th graders in Oregon met or exceeded math standards set by the Oregon Department of Education.

Educators say CTE classes like robotics can teach math in a fun and hands-on way.

"Things like torque, gear reductions, gear ratios, different things like that they have to calculate with their motors," said Chris McGowan, a robotics teacher at Willamette High School. McGowan said Willamette High School currently has the largest robotics program in the state.

Parra said although developing CTE classes is costly, the goal is to eventually offer CTE classes to all Bethel middle schoolers.

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