October 9, 2008
2 Cities Top Average While 3 Fall Short
The 82.6 percent rate was about a percentage point higher than the state average. Among 11 high schools, Bayside had the lowest rate, 73.2 percent, while Cox was highest, with 91.4 percent. Five of seven high schools had rates above the state average. The city's numbers ranged from 77.8 percent at Oscar Smith to 91.8 percent at Hickory. On-time graduation rates ranged from 67 percent at King's Fork to 80.6 percent at Nansemond River. Suffolk's numbers for low- income students (59.4) and students with disabilities (58.2) were the lowest in South Hampton Roads. Students at Booker T. Washington graduated at the highest rate among the city's five high schools, with 75.5 percent. Lake Taylor was at the low end, with 64.6 percent. The on-time graduation rate puts the city last in the state, but the division holds that the state's data are incorrect. It has filed more than 150 revisions for review. Superintendent David Stuckwisch says he believes Portsmouth's on-time graduation rate is about 70 percent. By Amy Jeter
The Virginian-PilotPortsmouth has the lowest on-time graduation rate in the state, with less than 57 percent of the students who entered ninth grade for the first time in 2004 earning a diploma within four years, according to data released Wednesday by the Virginia Department of Education.
Nearly 50 percent of the Portsmouth boys who began high school four years ago did not graduate this year, according to the statistics.
Superintendent David Stuckwisch said his city's numbers were incorrect, however. Schools didn't accurately track students who left, so some who transferred out may have been marked as dropouts, he said.
"The state is dealing with what we gave them," Stuckwisch said. "We didn't give them good figures."
Two other South Hampton Roads cities ranked among the bottom 20 of the 131 Virginia school divisions reporting numbers: Norfolk, with a 71.1 percent graduation rate, and Suffolk, at 71.9 .
Chesapeake (85.8) and Virginia Beach (82.6) exceeded the state's average number of 81.3 percent.
The statistics reflect the most accurate public high school four- year graduation rates ever reported in Virginia, according to Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the state education department. Estimates used in the past, including the formula that led some high schools to be labeled "dropout factories" last year , failed to account for transfers or students who repeated the ninth grade.
For the "on-time" graduation count, officials tracked each public school student by an identification number assigned during the 2004- 05 school year.
Students who earned one of five types of diplomas approved by the Virginia Board of Education in four years were considered on-time graduates. Those receiving a GED or a certification of completion were included in a school's completion rate, but not in its on-time graduation rate.
The rates at South Hampton Roads' 29 high schools ranged from 45.5 percent at Wilson in Portsmouth to 91.8 percent at Hickory in Chesapeake .
Breakdowns by race and gender generally showed that black students, low-income students and boys in South Hampton Roads graduated at rates between 1 and 12 percentage points lower than their city's average.
School divisions tracked the information for the past four years. They were allowed to review the statistics and offer corrections between June and September, Pyle said in an e-mail message.
Six corrections were requested by Portsmouth before Sept. 1. On Sept. 16, Stuckwisch told state officials he believed there were major errors in the data. Portsmouth was allowed an additional two weeks and submitted 156 more changes, according to Pyle.
Most of those corrections involved eliminating students from the statistics who were marked as first-time freshmen but were actually repeating the grade, Stuckwisch said.
He became aware of Portsmouth's low numbers in late summer, he said, and blamed poor record-keeping.
"It has created a serious embarrassment for the school system," Stuckwisch said
The superintendent said he believes Portsmouth's on-time graduation rate is about 70 percent.
The state plans to release data about dropouts early next year. Dropouts are students who left school, are not temporarily absent due to illness or suspension and have neither enrolled in nor completed an approved education program.
The Virginia Board of Education adopted the new graduation rate formula in 2006, in response to the General Assembly's direction to compile more comprehensive information about high school completion. The class of 2008 is the first year for which four-year graduation and completion statistics are available in Virginia.
A National Governors Association task force recommended the formula, and 44 other states have committed to calculating graduation rates in that manner by 2012.
Virginia's on-time graduation rate ranks among the highest tallied by a handful of states that calculate statistics using the same formula. The 2008 number in North Carolina was 69.9 percent.
The results in South Hampton Roads:
The 82.6 percent rate was about a percentage point higher than the state average .
Among 11 high schools, Bayside had the lowest rate, 73.2, while Cox was highest, 91.4 percent.
"Our ultimate goal is 100 percent," said Jared Cotton, assistant superintendent for assessment. Principals will use the data as a baseline to set goals and make improvements, he said. A continued focus will be the ninth-grade year, when many students tend to struggle.
Five of seven high schools had rates above the state average of 81.3 percent: Grassfield, Great Bridge, Hickory, Indian River and Western Branch.
The city's numbers ranged from 77.8 percent at Oscar Smith to 91.8 at Hickory.
The graduation rates provide "an opportunity for us to ... strategize where we go from here," said Patricia Powers, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Students at Booker T. Washington graduated at the highest rate among the city's five high schools, with 75.5 percent. Lake Taylor was at the low end, with 64.6 percent.
Norfolk's rate was about 10 percentage points lower than the state's.
Administrators said they were not satisfied, though they pointed out that Norfolk's number was higher than school divisions with similar resources and student populations, such as Petersburg and Newport News.
For about five years, the School Board has focused on strengthening high school programs.
"The 71 percent does not represent our fate," said Melinda Boone, the division's chief academic officer. "It represents where we are currently on the journey, not where we're going to stay."
When Wilson Principal Timothy Johnson heard that a state report said 45.5 percent of his school's students graduated on-time this year, he said he'd have to investigate the numbers.
According to the statistics, just 38 percent of the boys who began their freshman year at Wilson in 2004 received diplomas by this year.
The city's other high schools also posted rates under the state average: 68.0 percent at Churchland and 52.6 percent at I.C. Norcom.
Told of the overall number for Portsmouth, 56.7 percent, School Board Chairman James Bridgeford said, "I definitely hope that that percentage is not true."
On-time graduation rates ranged from 67 percent at King's Fork to 80.6 percent at Nansemond River.
"Surprised? No, because the graduation rate reports that have come in earlier ... we've been pretty close to what this is," said Kevin Alston, assistant superintendent for administrative services. "Disappointed? Yes."
Suffolk's numbers for low-income students (59.4) and students with disabilities (58.2) were the lowest in those categories among South Hampton Roads school divisions.
This year, the city's high schools began pairing at-risk students with mentors, Alston said. The division also offers after-school remediation and ninth-grade transition programs to ease the move from middle to high school, among other measures.
Pilot writers Hattie Brown Garrow, Cheryl Ross, Lauren Roth and Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer contributed to this report.
Amy Jeter, (757) 446-2730, firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia Beach Chesapeake Suffolk Norfolk Portsmouth online
Use PilotOnline's interactive database to find the graduation rates of your school. 81.3 percent: state average school-by-school data new formula
For the first time, the state tracked each student by an ID number assigned during the 2004-05 school year. A state official said this year's data are the most accurate measure of public high schools ever recorded. the local rates
The rates at South Hampton Roads' 29 high schools ranged from 45.5 percent at Wilson in Portsmouth to 91.8 percent at Hickory in Chesapeake.
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