- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

RICHMOND | About 83 percent of students in the class of 2009 graduated after four years of high school.

The Virginia Department of Education says the on-time graduation rate for public high school students who were first-time ninth-graders in 2005-06 was one percentage point higher than that of the previous year’s class. Department officials say that means nearly 1,000 more students earned diplomas.

Among school divisions, Highland County and Falls Church had the highest on-time graduation rates, at 96.6 percent and 96.3 percent, respectively, according to the report released Tuesday. Hopewell had the lowest, 60.5 percent, followed by Petersburg at 61.4 percent.

The report also showed continuing disparities in on-time graduation rates among subcategories of students: Asian students had a 93.3 percent graduation rate; whites, 87 percent; black students, 75.7 percent; and Hispanics, 72.3 percent. Students with disabilities had an 82.5 percent graduation rate; economically disadvantaged students, 73.2 percent.

The Virginia Department of Education tracks individual students from year to year to get a precise on-time graduation rate by assigning each freshman a “testing identifier” number. This is the second year the state has reported graduation rates using the method, which allows education officials to account for student mobility. If students move during high school, they would continue to be tracked, and they would count toward the graduation rate of the school where they earn their diplomas.

“Now we have an accurate way to measure the problem. The real question is: Are we prepared to do what it takes to make sure every child is prepared for life after high school?” said Angela A. Ciolfi, a lawyer with JustChildren, an advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville.

Of the 98,043 students in the group that started high school in 2005-06, nearly 8 percent dropped out. Hispanic students had the highest dropout rate at 19.1 percent; students with disabilities, 12.5 percent; economically disadvantaged, 12 percent; black students, 11.3 percent; white students, 5.6 percent; Asians, 3.3 percent.

Students who repeated grades, attended multiple schools and were repeatedly absent were more likely to drop out, according to the education department. Of all dropouts, 40 percent were ninth- and 10th-graders who were 17 years old or older.

Those who didn’t graduate this year aren’t necessarily dropouts. Thousands of students who entered ninth grade in 2005 are still in school working toward a diploma, while others moved out of state or to private schools, or earned a GED or certificate of completion.

Among localities, Petersburg had the highest dropout rate at 21.7 percent; Portsmouth was second at 20.1 percent. West Point, Rappahannock County and Colonial Beach reported no dropouts for the class of 2009.

The status of nearly 2 percent of the students hasn’t been determined. A student whose status is unconfirmed isn’t counted as a dropout until it’s established that he or she isn’t enrolled in another public or private school or being home-schooled.

The report said that about 35 percent of the class of 2009 earned a standard diploma; 44 percent earned an advanced-studies diploma, which requires students to earn additional high-school credits; and about 2 percent each earned a modified standard diploma or a special diploma. The latter two types are available only to students with disabilities.

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