Oregon Research Schools Network aims to address low graduation rates

The state of Oregon has the fourth lowest high school graduation rate in the country. In 2016, approximately 25.2% of students did not graduate. University of Oregon’s College of Education, with the help of an anonymous donation of $50 million to the university, has created a partnership with high schools …

Roosevelt High School, located in Portland, has a population of students that has been exposed to trauma such as domestic violence that make it hard for them to focus in class.

The Oregon Research Schools Network, a partnership between the University of Oregon College of Education and four Oregon high schools, including Roosevelt High, facilitates research and promotes student success at the schools. The network found that educating teachers about trauma’s effects on learning helped them bolster students’ resilience toward their traumas and was the best way to promote student success at their school.

The ORSN launched one year ago and extends the resources of a research university to high schools in Oregon. The network aims to improve high school graduation rates and student behavior at Oregon schools through conducting collaborative research, offering dual credit and facilitating professional development.

Oregon has one of the lowest average high school graduation rates in the country, at 77 percent, according to The Oregonian.

So far, the program has signed on four schools in Oregon: North Eugene High School, Pendleton High School, Coquille High School and Roosevelt High School. The ORSN finds school-specific solutions and focuses its research on the needs presented at each school.

“We really want to expand to 10 [schools] as soon as possible so we can serve more of Oregon and have more impact on Oregon high schools,” said Randy Kamphaus, dean of the College of Education.


Randy Kamphaus is the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Oregon. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)


The ORSN is funded through a portion of an anonymous $50 million donation to the University that is expected to support the first five years of the program, according to Kamphaus. He said they are still looking for a sustainable source of funding to make this a long-term project.

Kamphaus said they plan to offer internship opportunities for students at UO in the future. These opportunities could span across campus and involve majors beyond the college of education.

The ORSN places a UO faculty member, called an assistant clinical professor, at each high school for two days a week to conduct the research and work with teachers

Kamphaus said during the first year of implementation, the ORSN team has focused on setting up the structural components of the program, such as placing faculty at the schools. Now, teams are focusing on how to have the biggest impact at these schools.

“The question is, ‘How long will it take before we see impact?’” Kamphaus said. “We see some self-reported impact from teachers at this point in time, but our ultimate goal is to move some major important indicators such as high school graduation rates improving, post-secondary education rates improving as well.”

The ORSN uses a unique improvement model to conduct this research, Nancy Golden, facilitator of ORSN, said.

First, the ORSN team assesses the problems in each school, then they conduct research and plan a solution. They follow with implementing their plan and then evaluating the results.

At Roosevelt High School, the ORSN team helped educate teachers on trauma-informed practices, Golden said, which spurred teachers to start a program called “I am more” to help students understand that they are more than their trauma and to promote resilience.

“Teachers feel that their teaching practice, knowledge and skills have been enhanced by ORSN,” Golden said.

At Coquille High School, there was a population of students that was leaving the high school to attend another school in the area, Golden said. The assistant clinical professor at Coquille High School worked with the teachers at the school to identify why this was happening and how they could promote student retention.

Golden said the ORSN team helped the school gather data on this observation through exit interviews and surveys of the students leaving the high school.

What they found was students were leaving because they felt the other school in the area was more engaging in the classroom, Golden said. From there, they were able to focus on ways to make their classrooms more engaging.

“This is an area where we have intellectual strength, student talent and student strength where I think we can have the greatest impact on the Oregon citizenry by improving high schools throughout the state,” Kamphaus said.

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