By Sravan Gannavarapu
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Three small rural school districts had 100% graduation rates this year, and the Brunswick County, Manassas and Richmond school systems had the state’s lowest graduation rates, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Education.
Colonial Beach and Charles City, which each had fewer than 50 students in their 2019 graduation classes, and Highland County, which had just 14, graduated all of their seniors. Twenty-seven district had rates of at least 95%, including such larger school districts as York, Montgomery and Hanover counties.
The proportion of Virginia high school students graduating on time dipped from 91.6% in 2018 to 91.5% in 2019, the data showed.
Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said Virginia’s on-time graduation rate has risen by more than 10 percentage points in the decade since the department began reporting graduation rates that account for every student who enters the ninth grade.
“I believe this long-term, upward trend will continue as school divisions and the commonwealth adopt equitable policies and practices that provide instructional and support services tailored to the unique needs of every learner,” Lane said.
During the past school year, 74 of the state’s 131 districts had graduation rates above the statewide average. That was true of 197 of Virginia’s 327 high schools.
Eleven high schools — most of them with 50 or fewer students — had 100% graduation rates in 2019. Six of those schools achieved perfect rates the previous year as well: Chincoteague High in Accomack County; Highland High in Highland County; Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News; Open High and Franklin Military Academy in Richmond; and Chilhowie High in Smyth County.
Among high schools with at least 400 seniors, three had graduation rates of 99% or higher: Thomas Jefferson High for School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County; Cosby High in Chesterfield County; and Rock Ridge High in Loudoun County.
Analysis of the data also showed that:
- The Lunenburg County, Colonial Beach and Charles City County school divisions registered the most improvement in their graduation rates in 2019. Each district’s rate jumped by more than 10 percentage points from 2018.
- The Brunswick, Amherst and Sussex County school divisions saw the biggest drops in graduation rates — at least 7 percentage points.
Many of the students who did not graduate on time are still pursuing their high school diploma or a GED. Other students, however, have quit school and are considered dropouts.
Statewide, the dropout rate rose from 5.5 in 2018 to 5.6 this past year. The dropout rates varied among demographic and socioeconomic groups. The rate was:
- 4% for female students and 7% for male students
- 2% for Asian students, 3% for white students, 6% for African American students and 17% for Hispanic students
- 8% for economically disadvantaged students, 9% for students with disabilities, 22% for homeless students and 26% for English language learners
The Richmond Public Schools had the highest dropout rate in 2019 — more than 24%.
“We are of course deeply disappointed by the latest graduation numbers, but as we shared last spring, we knew a decline was possible — if not likely — as we stopped a number of inappropriate adult practices that were artificially inflating our rate,” Jason Kamras, superintendent of the Richmond school district, said in a statement.
“We clearly have more work to do, but I’m confident we are now heading in the right direction.”
Chesterfield County, which had a dropout rate of 7%, planned to do a “complete audit” of every student who had quit school, said Superintendent Merv Daugherty.
“This involves making personal contacts with each family with a goal of having the student re-enroll,” Daugherty said. “Additional student support services are also being incorporated to work with students who may be vulnerable to dropping out.”
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.