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Roanoke’s on-time graduation rate was one of the largest gains in the region.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Roanoke schools’ on-time graduation rate continued to climb, with the Class of 2013 showing significant progress but still lagging behind statewide figures.
At 80.3 percent, Roanoke’s rate has improved by almost 4 percentage points from last year, making it one of the largest gains in the region, according to figures released by the state Tuesday.
This marks the fifth consecutive year of improvement for Roanoke, and its percentage of graduates exceeded other urban districts including Richmond, Norfolk and Danville.
Both Roanoke high schools saw improvement. Patrick Henry High School’s rate climbed to 82.8 percent and William Fleming High School’s rose to 77.4 percent.
The on-time graduation rate measures how many students earn a Virginia Board of Education-approved diploma in four years. The rate does not include GEDs. Since the state began tracking graduates using the on-time rate in 2008, Roanoke has gained about 21 percentage points.
“I think that we have made tremendous progress,” Superintendent Rita Bishop said. “I just want to see progress every year.”
But even with the growth, Roanoke’s rate is still the lowest in the region, and like other school systems in the area, the city struggled with an achievement gap between black and white students.
Last year only about one-third of a percentage point separated black and white students, but this year that gap grew to about 8 points.
Bishop attributed that to math and English tests, but anticipated narrowing the gap next year with a focus on those areas and large amounts of individualized instruction.
She was also confident about continued momentum and attributed the system’s progress to a variety of factors.
Bishop said educators identify at-risk students, encourage them and work with them. She said a big part of keeping kids in school has been letting them know what kind of future a high school diploma means.
She said the system’s career and tech program and Forest Park Academy also have played major roles.
While Roanoke’s rate is still behind the statewide graduation rate of 89.1 percent, Bishop has her eyes on the future and plans to do “the same thing but just more of it.”
She also noted that urban Roanoke is different from surrounding school systems. For instance, 74 percent of Roanoke students qualify for free and reduced-price meals and at some schools that figure is close to 100 percent.
While Roanoke posted one of the largest gains in the area, nearly all school systems in the Roanoke and New River valleys showed increases in the number of students graduating on time.
Roanoke County climbed from 91.7 percent last year to 93.8 percent this year. All but one high school showed gains, including almost 5 percentage points at William Byrd High School and 3 points at Glenvar High School. Cave Spring High School dipped slightly from 96.5 percent to 94.6 percent.
Superintendent Lorraine Lange suspected the small decrease was attributed to more students attending the school and is focused on improvement every year.
“You don’t have to be sick to get better,” she said.
Lange said to bolster rates in Roanoke County, educators have done intensive remediation, worked individually with students and identified students who need help.
The county also showed a 6-point gap between the graduation rates of black and white students. Lange said she believes the system is closing the gap in part because of its technology program.
In nearby Salem, the division showed a drop in its graduation rate from last year, when it posted the area’s largest gain. This year 89.2 percent of students graduated on time, which is slightly higher than the statewide rate and 4.5 percentage points lower than last year.
“I think every cohort of students is different. Each cohort has its own challenges,” said Curtis Hicks, Salem’s director of secondary instruction, adding with 300 students there are many different circumstances. “There are some situations outside our control.”
Hicks said he doesn’t believe the rate will be a trend for the system.
In Salem, Hicks said the system has a credit recovery program and has increased summer school offerings to help students who need to get back on track. He also said research the system conducted years ago showed transfer students were among those at risk of dropping out, so the high school established an ambassador program to help new students.
Like its surrounding counterparts, Salem also had an achievement gap between black and white students of about 11 percentage points.
Hicks said the system is focused on making sure all students have the help and resources they need to graduate. He also noted the high school’s small subgroup of black students.
“With 39 students the difference of one or two students would make an impact on percentage,” he said.
Elsewhere, Franklin County’s rate held steady, while Bedford, Floyd and Craig counties all jumped by 1 to 2 points. Montgomery County gained 4.6 points, Radford 1.9 and Botetourt County 2.6.
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