October 14, 2008

More Kids Graduating on Time / Statewide Rate is 81.3%, but 6 Richmond-Area Districts Doing Better

Six of the 20 school districts in greater Richmond beat the state percentage of 2008 graduates who finished school in four years. Statewide, 81.3 percent of Virginia's graduating class of 2008 finished high school on time, according to the state's first graduation rate calculated by tracking individual public school students for four years from the time they entered ninth grade in 2004.

"The fact that better than eight of 10 students in Virginia graduate on time with a diploma is gratifying, given that estimates relied on in the past were much lower," said Board of Education President Mark E. Emblidge.

Previous estimates for Virginia have hovered around 75 percent.

King William County tops the list in the 20 localities in the Richmond area with 91.9 percent of its students graduating on time, while Hopewell was the lowest at 57.9 percent.

Richmond city schools graduated 64.2 percent of its students on time, including one high school - Open High - that graduated 100 percent of its students in four years.

State educators have anxiously awaited this year's result since starting the data-management system in 2004. It tracks each of its 1.2 million students with a unique 10-digit identifier from prekindergarten to 12th grade. The number records everything from attendance to test scores to whether the students leave school early and if so, where they go.

Statistics break down into multiple subgroups so educators have specific data to target intervention and to inform teaching practices.

Statewide, female students graduated at a rate of 84.3 percent, male students at 78.3 percent. The rates were 92.9 percent for Asian students, 85.3 percent for white students, 72.6 percent for black students and 70.4 percent for Hispanic students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright cautioned that the dropout rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate, and that thousands of students are taking more than four years to graduate or are earning a General Educational Development diploma.

Richmond city schools have the distinction of running the area's best and worst performing programs, according to the report. Of greater Richmond's comprehensive high schools, Armstrong High School came in last, with 54 percent of the students graduating on time.

The city's interim superintendent, Yvonne Brandon, said Armstrong, among other schools, caters to nontraditional populations, including students who return after dealing with family or criminal issues.

"But that's not an excuse, that's a characteristic," she said. "We have to find ways to support those students."

The school system will expand its dropout-prevention program, the Performance Learning Center, to Armstrong next year, among other things.

The report also lists Richmond Alternative with a 2 percent rate, but school officials weren't sure why it was listed. The year-long program is for students with academic, discipline or attendance problems, but success or failure of those students counts toward the school they came from.

Wright said while she isn't satisfied with an 81.3 percent statewide rate, she is pleased that the rate is increasing as the academic rigor in schools rises. State educators are considering tying graduation rates to school accreditation.

North Carolina, the only neighboring state that uses the formula, reported that 69.9 percent of its graduates finished school on time in 2008.

Angela Ciolfi, an attorney with JustChildren, said there's good news in Virginia's graduation rates but the results also indicate several significant issues, including a double-digit gap between white and black students.

"This is a more accurate rate," she said, "but it's not infallible."

On-time graduation rates

This year's graduation rates are the first calculated by tracking individual public school students for four years from the time they entered ninth grade in 2004. Statewide, 81.3 percent of the graduationg class of 2008 finished high school on time.

Amelia: 80.7%

Caroline: 72.7%

Charles City: 84.4%

Chesterfield: 84.3%

Colonial Heights: 69.3%

Cumberland: 80.6%

Dinwiddie: 68%

Goochland: 80.9%

Hanover: 91.8%

Henrico: 79.9%

Hopewell: 57.9%

King and Queen: 60.3%

King William: 91.9%

Louisa: 82.4%

New Kent: 80%

Petersburg: 58.4%

Powhatan: 91.1%

Prince George: 77.5%

Richmond: 64.2%

Sussex: 73.4%

- Contact Olympia Meola at (804) 649-6812 or [email protected]

- Staff writers Jeremy Slayton, Zachary Reid and Lisa Crutchfield contributed to this report.


MEMO: BREAKING NEWS 10/8/08 9:40 AM on inRich.com

Originally published by MEOLA; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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