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Portland High School Reforms Show Promising Results

Big changes in Portland, Ore., high schools appear to be paying off.

Two years after controversial reforms in the Portland district took effect, a new report shows improvements in graduation rates, student achievement, and college-readiness indicators.

The district closed one high school and pooled resources in the remaining comprehensive high schools. There was an emphasis on collaboration and adoption of a core academic curriculum for all students. A large part of Portland's focus was on equity and closing the achievement gap, with a commitment to transforming underperforming schools. Staffing was reallocated to ensure that literacy, math, and other support classes were provided for "academic priority" students.

Since the new approach was developed:

• Four-year graduation rates increased from 53 percent for the class of 2009 to 62 percent for 2011 graduates.

• The achievement gap narrowed 11 percentage points, from 30 percentage points to 19 between white and Hispanic students.

• There has been a 12 percent gain in the percentage of students considered college-ready (25 percent to 37 percent), as measured by meeting benchmarks on at least three ACT performance subject-area tests.

The Portland high school system serves about 12,500 students at seven neighborhood-based comprehensive high schools, two districtwide focus high schools, two charter schools, and one K-12 alternative school, one district alternative high school, and 14 nonprofit, community‐based alternative schools.

Since changes were made, enrollment has been stable, and even growing, according to the report.

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