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By Dana Tims July 23, 2014

Does Oregon rank 49th in the nation for its high-school graduation rate?

Oregon Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Gov. John Kitzhaber in November’s general election.

The two met in their first debate July 18, during which Kitzhaber portrayed himself as a problem-solver who works effectively across the aisle. Richardson pointed to problems with the doomed Columbia River Crossing bridge project and the disastrous rollout of Cover Oregon, the state’s health insurance exchange.

The claim:

Richardson, in assessing Kitzhaber’s record in office, singled out failures of the state’s educational system.

"We are 49th in the nation for our graduation rate," he said.

Is Oregon nearly at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to U.S. high school graduation rates? PolitiFact Oregon checked.

The analysis:

We emailed the Richardson campaign, which sent us a link to a Feb. 7, 2014, article by Betsy Hammond, the state education reporter for The Oregonian. The article’s headline: "Oregon’s high school graduation rate second-worst in nation."

The results, from the high school class of 2012, taken from the 2011-12 school year, showed Oregon’s rate above only Nevada’s when it came to our "regulatory adjusted cohort graduation rate"; that is, the percentage of students who entered the ninth grade in 2008-09 and graduated on time four years later in June 2012.

The numbers came from the U.S. Department of Education’s second-ever compilation of comparable state-by-state graduation rates.

For 2012, the numbers show, Nevada ranked dead last, at 63 percent, with Oregon next-worst, at 68 percent.

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Iowa topped the list, with an 89 percent four-year graduation rate.But three states, Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma, did not submit their rates, saying they lacked the ability to track all students. So Oregon was actually No. 46 out of 47 states, not No. 49. If the three other states had submitted their rates, it’s conceivable that Oregon could have climbed anywhere from one to three spots higher.

For the class of 2011, Oregon’s graduation was fourth-worst among the same 47 states, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. By in 2011-12, New Mexico and Georgia surged ahead, leaving the Beaver State a step from the basement.

We called Crystal Greene, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education, who said that while the four-year rate is the gold standard, other measures exist.

Those include five-year programs that allow students to remain enrolled in high school while attending community colleges, "modified" diplomas for special education students, diplomas awarded to adults, and GEDs. Including students who received modified diplomas and GEDs, she said, takes Oregon’s "completer rate" to 80 percent.

But, she said, official state reports on graduation rates don’t include those numbers. The Oregonian has also found that outcomes for students who earn GEDs, in particular, are far worse than those for high school graduates, meaning the credentials are far from equivalent.

Still, she acknowledged that the four-year rate -- considered by both state and federal education officials as the correct way to measure graduation rates nationally -- places Oregon near the bottom.

The ruling:

State Rep. Dennis Richardson, in taking on Gov. John Kitzhaber, stated during a recent debate that Oregon ranks 49th in high school graduation rates.

He based the number on a news story that looked at state-by-state numbers for the 2011-12 school year from the U.S. Department of Education. The story’s headline said Oregon had the nation’s "second-worst" rate.

That’s correct. But because only 47 states submitted data, it’s incorrect to say Oregon came in 49th.

Richardson’s claim is close but needs clarification. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Thoughts on this PolitiFact Oregon piece? Go to to leave your comments.

Our Sources

Telephone interview, Crystal Greene, communications director, Oregon Department of Education, July 22, 2014.

Oregonian, "Oregon's high school graduation rate second-worst in the nation," by Betsy Hammond, Feb. 7, 2014.

National Center for Education Statistics, "Public High School Four-Year On-Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates: Schools Years 2010-11 and 2011-12," April 2014.

Email from Meredith Glacken, spokeswoman, Richardson for Governor campaign, July 23, 2014.

Website, John Kitzhaber for Governor campaign.

America's Promise Alliance, "Building a Gradnation Report," April 28, 2014.

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