By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The number of "dropout factories" in Virginia has not changed since 2002, according to a new report released by a graduation advocacy group.
America's Promise Alliance released "Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic," in conjunction with other groups, last week.
The report shows the number of "dropout factories" -- those high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer students on time -- decreased between 2002 and 2010. Virginia, the report showed, had 26 "dropout factories" in 2002 and 2010. The state's graduation rate, according to the report, increased by less than 2 percent in the time, from 76.7 to 78.4 percent.
Under the report's classification and data from the state Department of Education, no high school in the Northern Shenandoah Valley qualifies as a "dropout factory." Virginia "on-time" graduation rates for divisions in the region for the class of 2010 ranged from 83.6 percent in Frederick County to 96.1 percent in Clarke County. Other divisions that year were: Shenandoah County at 89.8 percent; Warren County at 92 percent; Winchester at 85.9 percent; Page County at 85.6 percent; and Rappahannock County at 91.7 percent, according to the four-year rate report.
"I'm not sure that we're doing anything drastically different than other places," said Gregory L. Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction with Warren County Public Schools. "I think we talk with our staff and our teachers and students all the time about the importance of graduation. We try to keep in front of them the economic impact to the individual, the fact that when you don't graduate from high school the number of job choice, career choices you have is limited, compared to a high school diploma or especially following up with either a trade school or two-year, four-year program at a college."
Shenandoah County education officials push for graduation long before students make it to high school, according to Evelyn K. Linaburg, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment. That work begins in the lower grades with absenteeism and warning signs that students may fall behind, Linaburg said.
"So that's part of what we're trying to do is just make sure it's a total division effort not just a high school effort," Linaburg said.
At the high school level Shenandoah County has counselors and administrators who try to work with students individually to help them graduate and not drop out, Linaburg said.
Winchester's graduation rate at John Handley High School has increased almost 9 percent since the change to the new calculation method, according to George Craig, coordinator for curriculum and instruction. Craig credits intervention such as after school remediation programs as a way to prevent dropouts. But improved tracking methods also have helped.
"We've gotten much better, really good, about combing through the rolls looking for those names, where names have changed, to where kids have been registered incorrectly and been switched around," Craig said.
Calculating the graduation rates can prove difficult and three different methods remain in use at the state and federal levels, according to Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the education department. Pyle said last week the report's findings are based on data calculations no longer used by the state -- the "average freshman graduation rate" -- which the spokesman said relies more on estimates than solid figures.
"We really don't think about these estimates anymore in terms of using them as a basis for any kind of analysis or policy discussion because they are crude estimates, some of them are laughable," Piye said.
The spokesman noted the report cites a "cumulative promotion index" used in Education Week's "Diplomas Count" which Pile says "grossly undercounts" high school graduation in Virginia.
As Craig and Linaburg said graduation rates appear in several forms depending on methodology. The federal graduation indicator shows up on a school division's report card and used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine average yearly progress, but it uses only advanced a nd standard diplomas. The graduation completion index determines accreditation, Linaburg said. The on-time rate looks at standard and advanced diplomas and other state awards, Linaburg explained.
Division graduation rates per the America's Promise Alliance report's calculation methods were not available. But, according to Jason Amos, director of communications for the Alliance for Excellence in Education, another group involved in creating the report, none of the schools in the region fall under the "dropout factory" designation and even a few meet the graduation rate goal eight years ahead of schedule.
"The goal is 90 percent graduation rate in every state by 2020, so Virginia, from 2002 to 2009, only went from 76.7 percent to 78.4 percent," Amos said. "So it's labeled a 'challenge state' because it kinda needs to up the ante and start increasing [the graduation rate] at a better percentage."