- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2004

RICHMOND — More than 94 percent of Virginia’s high school seniors graduated this year, the first time the state required them to pass standardized achievement tests in order to earn their diplomas, Gov. Mark Warner said yesterday.

The results “exceeded our highest expectations,” Mr. Warner said. State figures show that 72,115 out of 76,495 seniors earned their diplomas this year, down from 95.2 percent last year, and the same percentage as in 2002.

“A number of years back, there had been predictions that 2004 was going to be a year of the train wreck,” he said, “that we were going to have a huge number of students not graduate from high school because they don’t pass their [Standards of Learning].”

But those predictions proved wrong “because the class of 2004 rose to the challenge,” said Mr. Warner, a Democrat.

Mr. Warner touted Project Graduation, a program started last year that offers regional academies and online tutorials to help students prepare for retaking the SOLs. He said 2,178 seniors were able to graduate after help from the program.

“Without our Project Graduation program, this percentage could have been much lower, and thousands of our seniors could have simply given up on a high school diploma,” Mr. Warner said.

The SOL graduation requirement took effect with students who entered ninth grade in the 2000-2001 school year. To earn a standard diploma, students had to pass two English tests and tests in any other four subjects — for a total of six verified units of credit.

Nine verified units of credit are required for an advanced-studies diploma. Those who fail to pass the required SOLs but pass their courses get a certificate of completion.

The figures also show that 73.5 percent of the 98,129 students who started high school as freshmen in 2000-2001 graduated in 2004, meaning 26.5 percent dropped out, transferred to private schools, left the state or otherwise failed to graduate with their class, up from 25.3 percent the previous year.

The state has asked Virginia Commonwealth University researchers to do a detailed study of the class of 2004, including those who left school before graduation.

Mr. Warner said the dropout problem is a national one, and cited a study that showed that the percentage of high schoolers going on to college has stopped rising, and among some minorities the figure is declining. That trend must be reversed if the United States is to compete in a world economy, he said.

For the first time since 2002, when Virginia started phasing in testing requirements for graduation, more students earned advanced diplomas (34,242) than standard diplomas (33,809).

“The increase in advanced diplomas corresponds with a sharp rise in the number of Virginia high school students taking Advanced Placement and other college-level courses,” said Jo Lynne DeMary, Virginia’s superintendent of public education.

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