Regional graduation rates exceed state average

Students at regional schools are graduating at a higher rate than the statewide average, according to data the Virginia Department of Education released on Wednesday.

The Department of Education’s data shows that Shenandoah County Public Schools had a four-year graduation rate of 96.3 percent between 2013 and 2017, exceeding the state average of 91.1 percent. Frederick County Public Schools had an average four-year rate of 94.8 percent, while Warren County Public Schools had an average rate of nearly 94 percent.

Representatives for the three districts said that the results were welcome. Shenandoah County Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said that the performance was a result of the hard work and efforts of principals, teachers and support staff.

“Once again, our staff has invested in their students to ensure that they not only graduate but that they are college and career ready,” Johnston said.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for Frederick County Public Schools, characterized the new data as another sign that the school system is improving. The graduation rate has steadily increased since 2009, while the dropout rate has declined over the same period.

Meanwhile, none of the Frederick County Schools is listed as a Focus School, a federal designation granted to schools whose at-risk students fail to meet targeted scores in reading and math.

“If you go a few weeks back when the accreditation information came out, we have over time had more schools fully accredited by the state, the number of focus groups is down to zero,” Edwards said. “Yesterday, information from the College Board indicated that the mean scores that Frederick County students achieved last year on the SAT were in excess of the mean scores at the state level and at the national level.”

Three Frederick County Schools–Frederick County Middle School, Gainesboro Elementary School and Redbud Elementary School–do not yet have official accreditation status and will likely fail to reach full accreditation status. But the number of schools in Frederick County meeting full accreditation standards has gone up recently.

Edwards attributed the decreased dropout rate and the increased graduation rates to efforts the school has made to work closely with students who are at risk of dropping out or of failing to graduate on time.

Edwards said that this approach is not new but that the district has implemented the focus group policy better over time.

“It’s something that’s been a point of focus and obviously over time we’ve continually gotten more successful,” Edwards said.

But while the results mostly pointed to welcome news, Warren County Schools had a substantial disparity between the graduation rates of black and low-income students and of the student population as a whole.

According to the Department of Education’s data, roughly 85 percent of black students and 87 percent of students the Department lists as “economically disadvantaged” graduated on time, compared to 94 percent for the district as a whole.

In an email, Alan Fox, director of secondary education for the district, stated that this disparity is a nationwide problem.

“Across the United States economically disadvantaged students have less access to education experiences than other students,” the email reads. “Students in Warren County and the Shenandoah Valley share the same difficulties.”

Fox stated that the district believes that changes to improve the instruction of students throughout the district will also increase the graduation rates of black and lower-income students.

“We have specific programs for students with disabilities, for English Language Learners, and for our economically disadvantaged students,” Fox stated. “We have found that while special programs help, the best thing for all of our students is good instruction in the regular classroom.”

Students with disabilities, meanwhile, performed well in all three districts. Johnston pointed out that all students with disabilities in Shenandoah County Schools graduated and that 95.7 percent of non-native English speakers graduated.

Around 95 percent of students with disabilities in Frederick County and 96 percent of students with disabilities in Warren County graduated on time.