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Bad for grads

Richmond Public Schools’ 70.6% on-time graduation rate is lowest in Virginia

Ronald E. Carrington | 10/11/2019, 6 a.m.
Richmond Public Schools had the lowest graduation rate in Virginia last June.
Mr. Kamras

Richmond Public Schools had the lowest graduation rate in Virginia last June.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, only 70.6 percent of Richmond students who started school as freshmen in 2015 graduated within four years, which is considered on time.

That’s well below the statewide on-time graduation rate of 91.5 percent.

“We are of course deeply disappointed by the latest graduation numbers,” Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a statement released Tuesday. “But as we shared last spring, we knew a decline was possible — if not likely — as we stopped a number of inappropriate adult practices that were artificially inflating our rate.

“We’ve taken a number of steps to guard against these practices from returning, and have put a variety of supports in place to help our students graduate on time,” the statement continued. “We clearly have more work to do, but I’m confident we are now heading in the right direction.”

Mr. Kamras did not offer details of the “inappropriate practices,” but school officials revealed earlier this year that students were given easier tests than required by the state and many were put on Individualized Educational Plans, or IEPs, to circumvent state graduation requirements.

For the 2017-18 academic year, RPS’ on-time graduation rate was slightly higher at 75 percent.

The state data, released on Tuesday, also exposed a deeper concern, showing that 24.4 percent of RPS students dropped out in 2018-19.

The rate was highest among the city’s Hispanic students, with 57.3 percent dropping out, while 17.4 percent of African-American students and 15 percent of white students dropped out.

According to the data, 100 percent of RPS’ Asian students graduated on time in 2018-19.

Statewide, the dropout rate for the Class of 2019 was 5.6 percent.

“We have been doing a very inadequate job ... for our English as a Second Language students, new arrivals and the most vulnerable populations,” Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young, 4th District, said on Tuesday.

Ms. Page

Ms. Page

To counter those trends, RPS has added additional parent liaisons in schools with high Hispanic populations. Additionally, more ESL teachers and bilingual staff members have been added during the current school year to increase support for at-risk students.

“I’m confident that with the new strategic plan in place, we are moving in the right direction to properly address this issue,” School Board Chair Dawn Page said.

The data was released a day after the School Board approved on a 5-3-1 vote Monday night to set 10 specific goals to achieve during the current school year. The goals are part of RPS’ five-year strategic plan, Dreams4RPS, to turn around low student achievement and graduation rates.

Under the goals, the RPS administration will increase the on-time, four-year graduation rate by 10 percent each year, with the current 70.6 percent rate used as a baseline.

Voting against setting the goals were board members Kenya Gibson, 3rd District; Dr. Patrick Sapini, 5th District; and Felicia Cosby, 6th District. Board member J. Scott Barlow, 2nd District, abstained from voting.

The bottom line is clear, according to Mr. Kamras. “The adults just need to make sure we give (students) every opportunity to succeed. With our strategic plan, Dreams4RPS, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Michelle Hudacsko, RPS chief of staff, will present detailed RPS graduation information at the next School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, in City Council Chambers.

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