- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) | Virginia officials are considering a plan to improve graduation rates by tying them to school accreditation.

Gov. Tim Kaine’s office is reviewing the plan, which would require schools to meet a graduation-rate benchmark to receive state accreditation and avoid penalties.

The proposal - a revision of the state’s Standards of Accreditation - would be subject to public comment before being considered by the state Board of Education. If approved, the change would begin with the 2009-10 academic year.

“We’re very, very focused on that issue, and we’re kind of mapping backward: Where do kids start to drop out?” said Board President Mark E. Emblidge. He also said officials are focusing on middle and high schools.

Under the accreditation proposal, education officials would create an index to award points to schools for achievements that do not count as diplomas in the official graduation rate, including points for General Educational Development (GED) diplomas.

Critics and supporter of the plan agree that it will be difficult to calculate a graduation rate that is accurate while being fair to schools that deal with an array of students, some of whom aren’t interested in graduating.

Angela Ciolfi, a lawyer for JustChildren, a child-advocacy group, praised the state for promoting high-school graduation but said the proposed index is too heavily weighted toward GED. Miss Ciolfi also said schools may not give proper attention to students who take more than four years to graduate if no points are assigned for them.

Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the goal is for every student to graduate with a diploma.

“When you look at the proposal, it attempts to strike that balance to provide full credit for the ideal - and that is students who graduate with a diploma in four years or less - but also provide some recognition for successful efforts to keep children in school,” he said. “Because if they’re not in school, then nothing’s going to happen for them.”

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