The Virginia Department of Education released its first-ever cohort report on the class of 2008, so Historic Triangle schools now have a better idea of how successful they’ve been at keeping students in school until graduation compared to other schools in the state.
A cohort is a group – in this case, a group of students – whose movements are followed over time.
The cohort report follows students who first entered ninth grade in 2004 using their “state testing identifier” number to track whether they switch schools during high school. Those who move out of the area drop off that school’s report, and those who transfer in to a new school get added.
Virginia released the cohort information in October 2008; these new numbers reflect students who actually graduated versus those who were in the senior class, as was reported in October.
The numbers published in the cohort report reflect dropout rates, graduation rates and completion rates for all students in the cohort. In this mountain of data there are state numbers, division numbers and individual school numbers that break down the graduation and dropout statistics into categories like sex and race as a way for school systems to identify groups that may be more likely to drop out.
“Using the data from these cohort reports, educators and policymakers can now see where interventions are most urgently needed and identify high schools and school divisions that have developed best practices and strategies that others can emulate and adapt,” Board of Education President Mark E. Emblidge said.
Superintendent of WJCC schools Gary Mathews, in an email to school board members after the release of the cohort data, said he believes the new cohort information shows “much higher dropout rates throughout Virginia than prior data would give witness to. From my perspective, it is the most accurate data now being reported for the first time.”
Overall, Williamsburg-James City County public schools have a dropout rate of 8.6 percent, on par with the state average of 8.7 percent. York County schools have just a 3.1 percent dropout rate.
York County’s graduation and dropout numbers in categories of sex and race are, across the board, lower than state averages.
York County Superintendent Eric Williams pointed to increased attention to guidance programs and more student and family involvement as reasons for the division’s progress.
“Our guidance program was revised a couple of years ago to include additional career counseling and one-on-one discussions with students and their parents so we ensure that they are aware of opportunities and remediation programs,” Williams said.
“Additionally, the dedication of our staff members and the support of our families and our community has a very positive influence on our high graduation rate and low drop-out rate.”
WJCC schools have an African American dropout rate of 18 percent, or 38 African American students who left school, out of a total of 921 in the cohort group (all African American WJCC students slated to graduate in 2008). The state’s African American dropout rate is 12.6 percent.
According to Mathews, “While W-JCC has enjoyed considerable academic progress over the life of this cohort (e.g., improvement in 21 of 21 NCLB categories last year with “statistically significant” gains in 18 of 21), we must still work to reduce the dropout numbers for all categories of students. None of us are satisfied otherwise. For our black students, especially, the lack of academic background (according to researchers like Robert Marzano and according to many of our W-JCC teachers) continues to be a struggle.”
Mathews says WJCC has plans to further reduce dropouts through “strategic development of vocabulary and reading strategies among students as well as the insertion of mentors and tutors in various before, during, and after-school venues at all levels. And, this current school year is the first to have remediation built into the middle school schedule via our Response to Intervention initiative.” Mathews says RTI may be coming to elementary schools soon, too.
“Additionally, the Academy for Life and Learning is ready-made for our dropout prevention efforts,” Mathews adds. Read more about how the Academy for Life and Learning aims to intervene with at-risk kids here.
“I am optimistic that we can continue to bring the kind of academic progress we’ve seen throughout the life of this 2004-2008 cohort,” Mathews wrote in his email to school board members. “Where we must gain is on the dropout prevention side of the ledger.”