Fewer than 1 percent of Prince William's high school seniors failed to graduate because they didn't pass Standards of Learning exams, school officials said this week.

Of the 3,907 seniors in Prince William, 32 did not pass the state SOL tests required to graduate. This year's class was required to pass both the English reading and writing tests and four other tests of their choosing.

In all, 382 seniors did not graduate for a variety of reasons, including absenteeism, failed coursework, failure on the research paper required of all students, or other causes. The failure rate was 9.8 percent, one percentage point higher than the percentage of seniors who didn't get a diploma last year.

Associate Superintendent of Instruction Pamela K. Gauch said the school system made tremendous strides, considering that in December it appeared that more than 500 students might not be able to graduate because of SOL requirements. At that point, school staff members began intensive monitoring of those students to help them get over that last barrier.

"I'm very pleased with what the staff has done," Gauch said. "The real heroes are the counselors and the teachers who work with those kids every day."

The state Board of Education has enacted several changes since the SOL testing program was introduced in 1998. In 2000, the state Board of Education voted to allow students to substitute their scores on Advanced Placement, SAT or other exams for some SOL tests.

In 2002, the board decided that a school district can award credit to students who failed a history or science test twice but came close to passing, as long as they passed the corresponding course.

Students also can retake exams. Gauch said that Prince William will have tutorials this summer for every class that has a corresponding SOL course. Students will be able to retake tests, and Gauch said it's likely the 2004 graduation rate will go up because those summer tests will be counted in 2004 results.

Perry Pope, principal of Osbourn High School in Manassas, said a "small number" of students did not pass because of the SOL testing requirement, but he did not have the exact number. The school graduated 415 seniors.

In Manassas Park, all 96 seniors graduated without a hitch, said principal Bruce McDade. School officials knew by the fall of these students' junior year that all had passed the English requirements. "We had two or three this fall who needed to get caught up on a couple of tests," and the favorable results came back a week before the graduation ceremony, McDade said.