Schools’ graduation rates fall short

Published 7:40 am Friday, October 10, 2008

Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County fell below the state’s average on-time graduate rate, but the schools say they are working hard to change the numbers in their favor.

The Virginia Department of Education released statewide accounting of on-time graduation rates, a new calculation that shows how many students earned their degrees on time between 2004 and 2008.

Southampton County scored a 73.7 on-time graduation rate, while Franklin has a 62.7 rate and Isle of Wight earned a 79.5 rate. The state average is around 81 percent, according to the report.

“Of course, we’re not happy with 62 percent,” Beverly Rabil, associate director of instruction for Franklin City Schools, said Thursday afternoon. “We’ve been (having meetings) and working on our graduation rate.”

This is the first time the state has tracked students from year to year to determine the

on-time graduation rate using a formula endorsed by the National Governors Association.

“With the Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate, we are replacing estimates with hard information that will shape local and statewide strategies to increase the likelihood that young people graduate with a diploma,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in a press release.

The latest numbers vindicate Southampton High School from being labeled a “dropout factory” by an earlier report, but the school’s percentage still could use improvement, says Superintendent Charles Turner.

An earlier report issued by Johns Hopkins University identified Southampton High School as one of 22 “dropout factories” in Virginia, saying that only 60 percent of students entering high school in the ninth grade there ended up graduating.

“Their formula was based on a ratio, not actual numbers,” Turner argued. “We’re glad to say now that they were using the wrong numbers. These new numbers vindicated Southampton as to that unfair label as a dropout factory.”

Turner acknowledged that a score of 73.7 is not ideal.

“We’re continuing to work on advancing all of those numbers,” he said. “We’re seeking 100 percent.”

Wright cautioned people against comparing dropout numbers with this graduation data.

“The dropout rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate,” she said.

Rabil agreed and said many students who did not fit within the 62 percent who graduated within a four-year time limit are still working toward a high school diploma.

“This does not mean only 62 percent of our students ever graduate,” she stressed. “Those children who didn’t make it in four years, many of them are still with us.”

Rabil said school leaders in Franklin will work hard to improve the high school’s on-time graduation rate.

“We will take a multi-pronged approach where we will look at dropout rates, transition to ninth grade and mentorships,” she said.

The graduating class of 2008 is the first cohort — a group with a statistical factor in common, in this case membership in the graduating class — for which there are four years of longitudinal data in Virginia’s Educational Information Management System (EIMS), Wright said. EIMS follows students as they transfer in and/or transfer out of Virginia public schools by assigning a unique, randomly selected number to every student. This number, known as a “state testing identifier,” stays with the student throughout his or her school career.

Using each identifier, the state then looked at the records of students who entered the ninth grade in 2004 to see if they graduated on time in 2008.

Students who transfer into a school are added to the group, and students who transfer to another school are subtracted. The rates were adjusted similarly to account for student mobility. Students with disabilities and English-language learners were included in the final count.

Turner said programs are in the works to help students graduate within the four-year time period.

Turner says the rules about tracking students who have left Southampton High School, possibly to attend other schools, has dragged the school’s numbers down because 28 students who entered in the ninth grade there are still being accounted for elsewhere. In the meantime, those students are being factored into the school’s percentage.

“They are considered as being at your school until they are definitely recorded at another school,” he said.

Isle of Wight officials say that the numbers don’t take into account the students who take longer than four years to work toward a diploma or those who receive other certificates of completion, such as a GED.

“There are some students who take more than four years to graduate,” said Michael McPherson, Isle of Wight schools superintendent. “Our teachers, guidance counselors and principals are working diligently to assist these students in reaching their goal of graduating high school.”

Virginia On-Time Graduation Rates for school divisions, high schools and other schools with a graduating class are available in the Virginia School Report Card section of the VDOE Web site at

The VDOE is supposed to release data about dropout rates early next year.