Va. Education Board approves graduation benchmarks for accreditation

Posted by Colby Rogers - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The State Board of Education voted Thursday to tie school accreditation standards to high school graduation benchmarks.

Starting in the 2010/2011 school year, high schools will be required to meet the board's "graduation and completion index," which awards points to a school based on students who graduate with a diploma, who earn a GED or who drop out.

The weighted points will then be divided by the total number of students - both those who earned a credential, and those who dropped out - requiring that schools obtain at least an 85 percent to receive accreditation.

More than a decade ago, the State Board of Education implemented the Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) which were used to accredit schools across Virginia.

Today's approved measure is meant to get graduation rates on equal footing with test scores, the Board says.

"I think by putting the spotlight on the graduation rate, we'll find all kinds of ways of getting kids over that finish line," said Virginia Board of Education President Mark Emblidge. "So we need to focus in on all the kids, but we're hoping we'll get a lot of movement in the urban and rural areas that have the lowest graduation rates in the state."

Some argue that the timing of these changes is inopportune given the state's current budget crisis. Others say the process, which will be phased-in over the next five years, offers schools the leeway they need to successfully get the students and staff on course.

"The latest statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the recession is hurting our dropouts the hardest," said Legal Aid Justice Center staff attorney and educational advocate, Angela Ciolfi. "What the Board of Education has done today is Virginia's bailout plan for dropouts."

The Board also voted to require students to complete one course in economics and personal finance to get their degree.

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