Grad rates appear to be up

Published 8:45 am Friday, October 16, 2009

RICHMOND—The public school divisions for Franklin and Southampton County made significant improvements in the on-time graduation rate for high school students, according to preliminary data released this week.

The Virginia Department of Education will release the official tallies for on-time graduation rates — a calculation that shows how many students earned their degrees on time between 2005 and 2009 — on Oct. 20, but superintendents for the Franklin and Southampton divisions provided their respective divisions’ preliminary numbers at the request of The Tidewater News.

A spokeswoman for Isle of Wight County Schools said the division also made improvements in the on-time graduation rate and dropout rate but would not release preliminary figures.

According to preliminary data, the on-time graduation rate at Franklin High School was 71.53 percent for 2009, a 6.63 percent increase from last year’s mark of 64.9 percent. The dropout rate at the school fell to 18.98 percent, down from 23.7 percent in 2008.

“I’m very pleased,” Dr. Michelle Belle, the superintendent for Franklin City Public Schools, said Thursday. “We are looking at the data now in terms of trying to deal with this dropout rate. Our goal is to put a dropout prevention program or plan in place so that we will get that number down even more.”

Belle said the division would begin tracking students at the middle school level and also possibly as early as the third grade. She said warning signs that a student could be at risk of someday dropping out of school appear at those grade levels.

At Southampton High School, early data revealed that the on-time graduation rate in 2009 was 80 percent, a 4.8 percent increase. Last year it was 75.2 percent.

“We have shown an increase over last year’s results due in part to programs implemented at Southampton High School,” Southampton County Schools Superintendent Charles Turner said in a written statement Tuesday. He cited remediation, individual tutorial sessions, intervention and prevention programs and several others for the marked improvement.

“We will continue to seek a 100-percent graduation rate,” Turner added.

The dropout rate at Southampton High School went up slightly in 2009 to 12.44 percent. It was 11.1 percent in 2008.

Preliminary figures for the statewide on-time graduation rate were not made available. Charles Pyle, the communications director for the Virginia Department of Education, said the state would release its 2009 numbers on Oct. 20.

The on-time graduation rate for high school students statewide was 82.2 percent last year. The dropout rate statewide was 8.7 percent.

Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Katherine Goff said Thursday that as a county the division posted an overall improvement in on-time graduation figures and a decline in the dropout rate.

Last year, the on-time graduation rate was 79.9 percent at Windsor High School and 80.7 percent at Smithfield High School. The dropout rates were 14.9 percent at Windsor and 11 percent at Smithfield.

When the state does release the official numbers, it will be second consecutive year Virginia has tracked students from year to year to determine the on-time graduation rate using a formula endorsed by the National Governors Association.

The rate is calculated using data from the state’s Educational Information Management System, which tracked the Class of 2009 — also called a cohort, or statistical group — for the last four years. Students were each assigned a unique tracking number, and the state then looked at the records of students who entered the ninth grade in 2005 to see if they graduated on time in 2009.

Students are factored into a school’s on-time graduation rate when they transfer into a school, but are subtracted from the rate if they transfer out.