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As dropout rates decline, graduation rates on rise

By Kim Walter

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced updated on-time graduation and dropout rates for Virginia's public schools Tuesday, and local divisions managed to report even better rates than the state.

According to a news release, 89.1 percent of students who entered the ninth grade in fall 2009 earned a diploma within four years, compared to 89 percent last year. The statewide dropout rate fell to 5.9 percent for the class of 2013, compared with 6.5 percent for the class of 2012.

"Every one point improvement in the state graduation rate represents another 1,000 young men and women who have earned diplomas and are able to pursue postsecondary and career opportunities that otherwise would be off limits," said Patricia I. Wright, superintendent of public instruction.

On-time graduation has increased by 7.8 points since 2008, the first year the Virginia Department of Education reported graduation rates for the state, school divisions, and high schools based on student-level data that fully account for student mobility, promotion, and retention.

Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren County Public Schools all exceeded the state averages, and also improved on their own on-time graduation and dropout rates.

Just over 90 percent of Frederick County Public Schools' class of 2013 graduated on time. The rate is up from 87.1 percent reported for the class of 2012.

According to a release from the division, the on-time graduation rate is calculated by dividing the number of students in the cohort earning a Virginia Board of Education-approved diploma in 2013, by the number of students who entered the ninth grade for the first time in 2009 -- plus transfers in and minus transfers out.

Unlike estimated graduation rates, the rate takes into consideration student mobility, changes in enrollment, and promotion and retention policies and decisions. The on-time graduation rate also provides flexibility for students with disabilities and limited-English proficient students, who are reported as "on- time" graduates regardless of when they earn a diploma.

For example, a student with disabilities who entered the ninth grade for the first time in 2007 and graduated in June 2013 would be assigned to the 2009 ninth grade cohort and counted as an on-time graduate.

Frederick County Superintendent David Sovine said it is exciting to see the report, since it directly relates to students being "well-prepared to further their education or enter the work force."

The dropout rate for the Frederick County Public Schools' 2013 cohort is 4.4 percent, which represents a decrease from the 5.6 percent rate reported for the 2012 cohort last year.

Virginia's dropout rate for the 2013 cohort was 5.9 percent. The dropout rates represent all students in a particular cohort who have not graduated, completed a credential or have discontinued school.

Warren County schools saw less of a change from last year's data, but still improved and kept up with the state's report.

According to the state, the division's class of 2013 had an on-time graduation rate of 92.3 percent, and a dropout rate of 5.9 percent.

Greg Drescher, Warren County assistant superintendent for instruction, said it was nice to see a slight increase from last year's data, but recognized that there is more work to do.

"We always focus on getting our kids to graduate on time, and making sure they get what is necessary to keep them in school," he said. "The fact that we're up in the 90th percentile is great, though. I think we, along with surrounding divisions, are doing a very good job."

Drescher said figuring out the on-time and dropout rates can be a little tricky, but it's up to the school system to look deeper into the data to find out what went wrong, or right, with certain sets of students.

"Sometimes a student moves out of state ... there's not really anything we can do about that," he said. "But having the data helps us look at our students and find out what we can do differently so that more will succeed."

Shenandoah County's class of 2013 reported a 95.9 percent on-time graduation rate, compared to 93.3 percent for the class of 2012. The dropout rate decreased dramatically, from 4.8 percent in 2012 to 1.9 percent in 2013.

High school cohort reports for schools, school divisions and the commonwealth are available for viewing and downloading at www.doe.virginia.gov/statistics_reports/graduation_completion/cohort_reports/index.shtml.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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