Despite a disrupted year, area high schools graduated nearly nine out of every 10 seniors this past spring, though there were some rate declines, according to recently released data from the Virginia Department of Education.
As in past years, Western Albemarle High School had the highest graduation rate among Charlottesville and Albemarle public high schools, with 99% of students who started high school in 2016 graduating on time.
Division-wide, 91.8% of seniors in the county graduated — three percentage points less than the Class of 2019 — and 4.6% dropped out.
Murray High School, a county charter school that has since merged with Community Public Charter School, had its highest graduation rate in recent years, with 95.2% of the class earning diplomas in four years.
Charlottesville High School continued its streak of strong graduation rates, graduating 94.5% of its senior class. That’s a slight drop from last year’s record of 95.7%. About 2.6% of the senior class dropped out.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” city schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said in a news release. “Among other things, it indicates that we were able to stay connected with our high school seniors this spring to help them finish their K-12 journey.”
Graduation requirements aren’t contingent on a grade, though students need to pass the courses.
Statewide, 92.3% of students graduated and 5.1% dropped out. The state’s on-time graduation rate for 2020 is the highest since 2016. Virginia has been tracking graduation rates since 2008.
Locally and across Virginia, disparities in graduation rates and the types of diplomas earned by different student groups have continued. Students can earn either a standard or advanced studies diploma, the latter of which has more rigorous course requirements.
About 51.8% of students in Virginia earned advanced diplomas, while 38.1% received a standard diploma. Students with disabilities also can earn an applied studies or modified standard diploma.
Across Central Virginia, graduation rates increased slightly in six divisions — Buckingham, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison and Orange counties. Nelson County’s rate dropped by about one percentage point to 88.4%.
Following the forced closure of schools in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, VDOE allowed school districts to waive some graduation requirements, so students on track to graduate could do so.
“My first priority after schools closed was to make sure that every student in the Class of 2020 who was on track to earn a diploma was able to graduate on time,” James Lane, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a news release. “In addition to congratulating our 2020 graduates, I want to thank all of the educators and administrators who made full use of the flexibility provided under the emergency waivers I issued in the spring to ensure that students were not held back because of being unable to take a Standards of Learning test or complete a required course.”
Typically, graduation rates are part of the state’s accreditation system for high schools, but accreditation was waived for the 2020-21 school year because spring state testing was canceled.
In addition to the state waivers, Charlottesville students who were passing their classes as of March 13, when schools closed, were given an A letter grade.
In Albemarle, high school students could opt for a letter grade in their classes or take their classes pass, fail or incomplete. The letter grade was determined by the student’s grade as of March 13, though students had an opportunity to boost their grade by one letter.
Across the county, Albemarle and Monticello High schools were the only ones to have lower graduation rates than the year before.
At AHS, 88.9% of students graduated and 6.5% dropped out. This was the first time in recent years that the school’s graduation rate fell below 90%. The rate has declined each year since 2017, when 95.7% of students graduated on time.
At Monticello High School, 89.3% of seniors graduated, down from 94.6% in 2019, and 5.9% dropped out.
Monticello did graduate 100% of its Black students. Division-wide, 93.5% of Black students graduated, beating the division’s overall rate, though only 27% earned advanced studies diplomas.
However, 76% of Hispanic students graduated, a four-point decrease from 2019, and nearly 40% left with an advanced studies diploma.
About 94.5% of white students graduated, and 72% received advanced studies diplomas. Division-wide, 62% of students graduated with an advanced studies diploma.
Debbie Collins, the division’s assistant superintendent for student learning, said in a news release that improving those gaps among student groups is possible, pointing to the recent national award for Baker-Butler Elementary, which was recognized for narrowing achievement gaps among some student groups.
“The strong performances of our students, as indicated this year by SAT scores, our graduation rate again above 90%, the rigor our high school students have mastered — all are a tribute to the dedication and skill of students, families and our educators, even more so this year given the impact of the pandemic,” Collins said in the release. “These success stories need to be more broadly shared across our entire student population, and that certainly will be our focus this year.”
Collins said the division is expanding the choices students have to direct their own learning, enabling them to align course selections with their passions and career interests, an effort that could help with graduation rates.
About 86.5% of students from low-income families and nearly 90% of students with disabilities graduated on time.
“We are most successful when we work with each student, one at a time, to assist them and wrap around them as a team to complete their high school education,” Collins said.
A years-long effort at Charlottesville High School to graduate more students is continuing to pay off, data from the Class of 2020 shows.
Nearly 97% of Black students graduated, a new high, with 32% earning advanced studies diplomas. — a 6.4 percentage point increase from the Class of 2019.
The division also highlighted its graduate rate for students with disabilities. At 95.6%, the division improved slightly from 2019 and surpassed the state’s rate of 90.4%. About 48% of students with disabilities at Charlottesville High School earned advanced studies diplomas.
About 92.6% of students from low-income families graduated, and 27% had advanced studies diplomas. Among white students, 99.3% graduated and 70% received advanced studies diplomas.
Overall, 52% of CHS seniors earned advanced diplomas.
The high school did see more significant drops in graduation rates among Hispanic and Asian students. About 77% of Hispanic students graduated this year, compared with 90.9% in 2019. The rate for Asian students — 78.6% — dropped nearly 16 percentage points.
The division said in a news release that the small number of students in those categories makes the percentages subject to sizeable swings. Additionally, there’s a significant overlap with the high school’s English-Language Learners. The graduation rate for English Learners declined 12.5 percentage points to 69%.
“We are so proud of the Class of 2020,” CHS Principal Eric Irizarry said in a news release. “They showed resilience in the face of challenges such as the schools’ closure this spring. Our teachers, counselors and staff stayed with them even during the closure, and we found great new ways to celebrate their graduation. That class taught us a lot, which we will use to help this year’s seniors.”