- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

RICHMOND | Nearly nine out of every 100 students who entered a Virginia public high school in 2004 dropped out before their classmates graduated in 2008, and those lacking proficiency in English had the highest dropout rates as a group.

The state Department of Education said in a report Tuesday that of the 96,152 students scheduled to finish school in spring 2008, about 82 percent graduated on time and 8.7 percent dropped out.

The report marks the first time the state tracked individual students over a four-year period and reported hard statistics on high school dropouts, rather than estimates, said Patricia I. Wright, state superintendent of public instruction.

It accounts for the status of nearly all high school students at the end of the 2007-08 academic year. An amendment to Virginia law required the state Board of Education to report on-time graduation rates using a formula that accounts for the status of each student over his or her high school career.

Students who repeated grades, had frequent absences and attended more than one school were more likely to drop out, the report found. Nearly 59 percent of the dropouts repeated at least one grade during high school, with more than 37 percent repeating 9th grade, and about 42 percent of the dropouts were 17 or older when they were in 9th and 10th grades.

The report also breaks out graduation rates for subgroups, including by students’ racial backgrounds, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and homeless and migrant students.

Miss Wright said the information will allow schools to improve instruction for key groups of students to help them graduate.

“We’re asking school leaders to target interventions and programs to place a laserlike focus on students at risk for dropping out of high school,” she said.

“Some schools have higher dropout rates than the state average; we know that those rates are not acceptable.”

Students with limited English proficiency had an on-time graduation rate of 70 percent and a dropout rate of 27 percent, according to the report. Among homeless students, 60 percent graduated with their class while nearly 19 percent dropped out.

Hispanic students entering high school in 2004 had a 71.5 percent on-time graduation rate and a nearly 20 percent dropout rate; among black students, 74 percent graduated on time and about 13 percent dropped out, according to the report.

About 76 percent of American Indian students graduated on time, while 14 percent dropped out; 86 percent of white students graduated on time and about 6 percent dropped out; 93 percent of students of Asian descent graduated and under 4 percent dropped out.

Students who earned graduation equivalency diplomas or certificates of completion instead of diplomas - about 4 percent of the total group - weren’t counted among 2008 graduates or dropouts. Also, four-tenths of 1 percent of the group was reported as being on long-term leave or expelled with the possibility of returning; the status of 2 percent couldn’t be confirmed. About 2,500 students - nearly 3 percent - remained in high school after four years.

Virginia’s Board of Education has given priority to reducing dropout levels. It formed a panel in 2006 to examine how state schools could boost graduation rates, particularly among nonwhite students.

The board in February also revised Virginia’s accountability standards, requiring that high schools meet annual graduation-rate benchmarks in order to be accredited, making such measures as important as standardized-test scores. The new standards will be phased in starting in the 2011-12 academic year.

“Many schools have been focused solely on achievement scores,” Miss Wright said. “We must look at both scores and the ultimate outcome: graduation.”

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