Graduation rates up in city, Frederick

Posted: October 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

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WINCHESTER — On-time graduation rates in Frederick County and Winchester public schools improved over last year’s figures, while Clarke County’s remained nearly perfect.

The Virginia Department of Education reported on Tuesday that the state’s average on-time graduation rate for 2013 rose to 89.1 percent — up from 88 percent last year.

The on-time graduation rate is the percentage of students who were first-time ninth-graders during the 2009-10 school year and earned a Board of Education-approved diploma within four years.

Frederick and Clarke were among the 62 of Virginia’s 131 school divisions with high schools to achieve graduation rates higher than the state rate.

Frederick County had a rate of 90.1 percent — up from 87.1 percent last year.

Clarke County had a rate of 97.3 percent — down from last year’s 98.9 percent.

Winchester, with a rate of 88.6, was one of the 69 school divisions to fall below the state rate. However, its rate this year is an improvement over last year’s 86.1 percent.

George Craig, director of curriculum and instruction for the city schools, said the increase was significant.

“A number like that, when it goes up, it is significant,” he said. “We’re better able to get kids to graduate over a four-year period.”

Craig said the division is more adequately diagnosing and addressing issues with individual students and working harder at advising them about their academic and career plans.

The division’s block scheduling also provides more instruction time for students to make up assignments if they fall behind.

Along with its high on-time graduation rate, Clarke had 73 percent of its senior class graduating with an advanced-studies diploma — which requires more credits — compared to about 48 percent in Winchester and Frederick.

The number is 10 percent higher than last year.

“This means that nearly three-quarters of our high school graduates leave well prepared for their 13th year and the rigor that career and college might bring,” said Clarke County Schools Superintendent Mike Murphy.

Students earning a General Educational Development diploma or Certificate of Completion are not dropouts, but are not counted as on-time graduates when the rate is calculated.

Statewide, on-time graduation rates differed among subgroups: Asians had a 95 percent rate; whites, 91.7 percent; blacks, 84.1 percent; and Hispanics, 83.3 percent.

Craig said the city division has many students in subgroups and that their on-time graduation rates are comparable to the state averages.

In Frederick County, all three high schools improved their rate from last year: James Wood rose from 85.6 to 89.5 percent; Millbrook from 88 to 88.5 percent; and Sherando from 87.9 to 92 percent.

The state Department of Education also announced that the statewide dropout rate fell to 5.9 percent for the Class of 2013, compared with 6.5 percent for the Class of 2012.

The dropout rates represent all students in a particular class who have not graduated or completed a credential, have discontinued school, or have moved to another division without telling the school, thereby causing the school to lose track of them (also called a “lost” transfer).

Frederick’s dropout rate this year was 4.6 percent (an improvement over 6.3 percent last year) and Clarke’s was 1.6 percent — both better than the state average.

“Each high school cohort is different, but we are pleased to see our on-time graduation rates continue to climb while the number of dropouts declines,” Frederick County Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Peter Vernimb wrote in a Tuesday press release.

Winchester’s dropout rate of 8.4 percent fell below the state rate, but improved over its rate last year of 10.9 percent.

Craig said the improved rate is due to better tracking of students (which reduces the number of lost transfers) and providing more alternatives in classes.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com