Thomas Jefferson High School graduation ceremony1

Students wear different color caps and gowns at Thomas Jefferson High School’s graduation ceremony at Altria Theater in Richmond in 2018. This year, the school district requires schools to use one color cap and gown for everyone so they’re gender neutral.

Richmond Public Schools had the lowest graduation rate in Virginia this year, new state data show.

Just 3 in 4 city seniors graduated on time this year, a rate 16 percentage points below the state average. The city’s rate is also lower than last year’s figure, which was the second lowest in the state.

One in 5 city students who started ninth grade in 2014 dropped out, according to data released Monday by the Virginia Department of Education.

“This data is not a reflection of our students’ abilities. It’s a reflection of our failure to provide them with the education they deserve,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a statement. “My administration is committed to changing this — once and for all — for every young person in RPS.”

The new figures present yet another challenge for the ailing school district. Its academic struggles were made clearer in a recently released independent audit that focused on equity and achievement gaps.

Statewide

The graduation rate across the state increased slightly.

Virginia’s on-time graduation rate increased by half a percentage point this year, from 91.1 percent last year to 91.6 percent this year. This year’s rate was the highest in five years.

“This improvement in graduation is the result of the hard work and dedication of teachers, principals, support staff and other educators who refused to give up on students who might otherwise have dropped out,” Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a statement.

More than half of seniors earned an Advanced Studies diploma, while 37 percent received a standard diploma.

Of the 97,961 students in the Class of 2018, 5,404 dropped out — a small improvement over last year’s 5.8 percent dropout rate. Just over 1,000 earned a GED.

Dropout rates were highest for English language learners, a quarter of whom didn’t walk across the stage. Eight percent of economically disadvantaged students dropped out.

Asian students posted the lowest dropout rate at 1.4 percent. Among white students, 3.1 percent dropped out. Six percent of black students did the same.

Local districts

Across the region, high schools had an average graduation rate of 90 percent — just below the state average. Hanover County’s 95 percent on-time graduation rate was the highest in the region, followed by Louisa County at 94 percent.

Colonial Heights saw the biggest drop in the region, going from 96 percent in 2017 to 91.5 percent this year. Hopewell and New Kent County both posted 4.6 percentage point gains to 89.8 percent and 93.5 percent, respectively.

Chesterfield

Chesterfield County’s graduation rate went up nearly 1 percentage point, from 90.1 percent to 90.9 percent.

The district had 4,467 students complete high school in four years, the most in the region. An additional 338, or about 7 percent, dropped out, while 58 are still in school.

Of Chesterfield’s 10 comprehensive high schools, Meadowbrook had the lowest on-time graduation rate at 80 percent. Midlothian High School’s 99 percent of seniors graduating was the highest.

Hanover

Hanover was the only school district in the area last year to have every school fully accredited. This year, it had the highest graduation rate.

The district’s 95.2 percent rate stayed the same from 2017, with 2 in 3 graduates receiving an advanced diploma. Hanover’s 2.7 percent dropout rate was less than half of the state average.

While Atlee High School had the highest graduation rate last year, Hanover High School eclipsed its division peer for the title this year. Ninety-seven percent of Hanover High’s seniors graduated this year.

None of the four high schools in Hanover had graduation rates below 94 percent.

Henrico

Of the four biggest school districts in the region, Henrico County saw the largest gains.

The school system’s graduation rate grew 1.2 percentage points this year to 92.3 percent. Henrico’s dropout rate also went in the right direction, moving from 6.2 percent last year to below the state average at 5.3 percent this year.

Highland Springs High School had both the lowest graduation rate in the county and the highest dropout rate at 88 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively. Ninety-nine percent of students who started high school in 2014 at Glen Allen High School graduated on time, the top mark in the system.

Richmond

While its regional peers saw growth, Richmond Public Schools saw decline.

The city school system had the lowest graduation rate in the state after dropping from 76.9 percent in 2017 to 75.4 percent this year. Last year, it had the second-worst rate, trailing only King and Queen County.

RPS’ low rate comes even after the city School Board suspended an attendance policy, allowing more than 400 seniors — more than a third of its class — to graduate despite missing too many classes.

If the policy was enforced, 413 seniors would have had their grade point averages lowered because of an excessive number of unexcused absences, putting their graduation in jeopardy.

Across the district, 1 in 5 students dropped out. Nearly 2 in 3 English language learners in the district dropped out.

Of the five comprehensive high schools in RPS, John Marshall had the highest graduation rate at 91 percent, up from 81 percent in 2017. Huguenot High School’s 67 percent graduation rate was again the lowest in the district.

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jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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