Virginia high school graduation rates have risen more than 8.5 percent in the last six years, according to new data released by the Virginia Department of Education.
Education School Dean Robert Pianta said the graduation rate increase reflects consistent improvement in the commonwealth's education system.
“The improvement in graduation rates is in large part a consequence of school districts working very hard at this for the past several years,” Pianta said.
Pianta said school prevention programs targeted toward students at risk for dropping out, including mentoring and tutoring, helped to improve graduation rates across the board.
“These positive results are a good example of how good information and early intervention can make a big difference,” he said.
The percent of students receiving “advanced studies diplomas” — granted to students who complete 26 total academic credits as opposed to the 22 required for standard diplomas — also rose in this time frame. Virginia state data released by the VDE showed 50.6 percent of students in the Class of 2014 graduated with an advanced diploma, compared with 43.7 percent in 2008.
Roanoke, Charlottesville and Richmond City Schools have seen significant surges in overall graduation rates, with Roanoke City rates growing by 24.3 percent, Charlottesville City rates by 14.2 percent and Richmond City rates by 11.6 percent in the past six years.
Albemarle County Schools have seen a rise of nearly 7 percent in the past six years. Debora Collins, the executive director for Pre-K through 12 education in Albemarle County, said she believes the rise is because of the efforts of parents and teachers to nurture student improvement.
Graduation rates in other local counties, including Orange, Fluvanna and Nelson County, also saw growth. Nelson County schools' graduation rate increased 8.3 percent, Orange County saw an increase of 4.5 percent and the Fluvanna County rate increased 1.2 percent.
“Our goal is to understand the needs of each one of our students very early in their academic careers, even before they enter high school,” Collins said in a press release. “Every child has the potential to learn at a very high level, and our staff and teachers are focused on providing the individual attention and support to ensure that happens.”
Statewide dropout rates also continue to decrease, from 8.7 percent in 2008 to 5.4 percent in 2014. Collins said the rates reflected the “highly engaged high school staffs that begin supporting students from the moment they enter high school as freshmen.”
Albemarle County Schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita said the increase in graduation rates in Albemarle County is due to a combination of factors, including early tracking by guidance counselors and teachers, as well as special programs such as AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination.
“It helps students organize their academic life, it helps to search out tutoring opportunities and gives them a mentor to work with,” Giaramita said. “These are typically kids who come from families where no family members have attended college previously.”
The Albemarle AVID programs have been extremely successful, Giaramita said. The program at Jack Jouett Middle School has been ranked among the top 3 percent of all AVID programs worldwide.
“They’ve taken these principles of AVID: research skills, planning skills, the measuring piece of this, organizational skills, and they’ve transferred those skills or worked on those skills throughout the entire school so its not just the AVID kids,” Giaramita said.
Charlottesville City Schools have also adopted the AVID program and boast a similarly large increase in graduation rates in the past few years.
Despite the success of these programs, Giaramita believes the most effective tool is still the teacher in the classroom.
“There is no substitute for the individual guidance counselor or teacher, building that one-on-one relationship with a student and a student’s parent and tracking them through,” Giaramita said. “That’s still the most effective response in recognizing issues early and pulling together the resources that will help to solve that.”