We’re not a dropout factory

After more than two weeks of receiving more detailed information about students at Oak Harbor High School, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University has determined that the high school should not have been labeled a “dropout factory.”

The Oak Harbor School District made news several weeks ago when researchers identified the high school as one of 22 “dropout factories” in Washington state. The study was commissioned by the Associated Press and made headlines statewide.

As it turned out, the Johns Hopkins team was using the wrong numbers. The John Hopkins researchers counted freshmen based on the year in school while Oak Harbor school officials count freshmen based on the number of credits they earn.

“We don’t promote freshmen to sophomores until they have a sophomore number of credits,” Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon said.

Because of that, Oak Harbor School has a large number of students classified as freshmen. In addition to the 406 students in the current freshman class, there are an additional 124 students in the other classes who haven’t earned the five credits needed to become sophomores.

The numbers that came up in the research, which erroneously claimed a 41 percent dropout rate, weren’t consistent with state information. Oak Harbor’s on-time graduation rate has varied between 75 percent and 83 percent over the last three years and its extended graduation rate is between 78 percent and 88 percent over the past three years.

Based on the new information presented, researchers changed their conclusions about Oak Harbor High School.

“This leads us to conclude that, based on the most current data, Oak Harbor would not meet the criteria for ‘fitting the profile of’ a dropout factory and should not be currently characterized as such,” states a letter the school district received from Johns Hopkins University.

Gibbon added that the extra work the staff does to help freshmen is what skewed the statistics that placed Oak Harbor on the original dropout factory list.

School staff work hard to make sure freshmen stay in school and are successful. The school implemented the “Island Program” five years ago to help freshmen start the school year on the right foot, and there is a truancy officer who tracks down students who aren’t attending classes. Staff members also set up meetings with students and parents about the risks of falling behind and there are after-school tutoring programs to help all students.

With the new information from Johns Hopkins University, school officials are busy getting the word out to the community by talking with area media and meeting with community groups and the Navy. However, they face a daunting task to negate the original announcement.

“It’s very, very difficult to un-ring that bell,” said Joe Hunt, communications director for the Oak Harbor School District.

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