More than 90 percent of Virginia’s high school Class of 2016 graduated on time, the highest rate recorded since the state changed how it tracks high school graduations nearly a decade ago.
The on-time graduation rate rose from 90.5 percent last year to 91.3 percent this year, continuing an upward trend since the state started keeping more accurate data in 2008, keeping closer tabs on transfer students and dropouts who were sometimes miscategorized in state data.
“The success demonstrated by our students is a testament to the resolve of teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders across the Commonwealth to ensure that every individual gets the best possible education,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said in a statement.
The rise in Virginia’s graduation rate tracks with national and regional trends. This year, D.C. Public Schools posted record-high graduation rates, with 69 percent of high school seniors graduating on time. It was a five percentage-point gain over the previous year. The most recent national average was 82 percent.
Graduation rates in large Northern Virginia school districts remained steady, for the most part, and above the state’s graduation rate. Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest district, saw a slight decrease — 92.3 percent — in the percentage of those graduating on time. The graduation rate in Arlington County fell to 91.1 percent, down by nearly two percentage points.
Loudoun County’s graduation rate remained at 95 percent, among the state’s highest.
Also improving was Prince William County, going from 91.4 percent to 91.7 percent of seniors graduating on time. That’s nearly nine percentage points higher than eight years ago, when 83 percent of seniors graduated.
Rita Goss, Prince William’s associate superintendent for student learning, attributed the rise to several factors, including the expansion in the number of options for high schoolers. The district has boosted its career and technical education opportunities as well as programs for students to take classes online and at their own pace.
“We have a number of things we’re doing in the school division that really meet the needs of students and also their interests,” Goss said. “When students are interested in what they’re learning, it gives them that stronger connection to stay in school.”
In Alexandria City — where the lone high school is the state’s largest — the on-time graduation rate rose to 82.1 percent. Rates rose for all groups, including black and Hispanic students.
School districts have seen success with programs that closely track students in danger of dropping out or failing and intervening with extra help. Alexandria’s Operation Graduation keeps close tabs on students who appear to be faltering, assigning them mentors who serve as their advocates and cheerleaders to ensure they meet graduation requirements.
And Prince William hosts a special “Graduation Academy” that helps students recover credits or make up standardized exams during the summer so they can cross the stage in a special ceremony.
The release of Virginia’s graduation rates this week comes as state education officials begin to examine how to remake high school education to make it more relevant to the workforce. Some lawmakers wonder if the state’s academic and testing requirements are serving students who want to take jobs immediately after high school.
The Virginia Board of Education is considering allowing internships, apprenticeships and job experience to count toward high school graduation requirements.