In the recently adjourned 2016 General Assembly session, I filed HB478 which adds language to Subsection H of Section 22.1-253.13:4 of the Code of Virginia (relating to the high school graduation and dropout data; formula; on-time graduation) to read:
“H. (Effective July 1, 2016) The Board shall also collect, analyze, report and make available to the public high school graduation and dropout data using a formula that excludes any student who fails to graduate (i) because such student is in the custody of the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice, or local law enforcement or (ii) on time because of an extenuating circumstance enumerated by the Board pursuant to regulation. For the purposes of the Standards of Accreditation, The Board shall use the graduation rate required by this subsection.”
My goal with this language is to add more flexibility to the current on-time graduation formula such that students with interrupted formal education (SIFE) who do not graduate on time will not be counted as dropouts, and thereby negatively impacting a high school’s graduation rate.
As I am sure you are aware, the number of students defined as SIFE is rapidly growing across the nation, because American public schools have a legal obligation to serve all children of school age, regardless of the child’s immigration or refugee status. School-age children and adolescents who enter the U.S. as refugees may well have stopped attending school in their home country after sixth grade. This is the case for the majority of youth refugees from Central America. Some of the countries of origin of refugees do not require school attendance through the age of 16 and many of these countries cannot offer public education due to raging war as well as frequent wartime destruction of public institutions. Refugee youth experience many challenges to academic success sometimes due to illiteracy in both their native language and in English, as well as the need to overcome the consequences of the trauma that forced them to flee from their home countries.
Our public high schools should be lauded for their efforts to instruct and support students who fall within the definition of SIFE, and not be penalized by lack of flexibility in the Commonwealth’s graduation rate formula. Yes, specific instances of a high school being stigmatized as “Accredited With Warning” because of a “failing” graduation rate can be appealed to the Department of Education. However, even if the appeal is successful (and the appeal I requested was successful, thanks to Secretary Anne Holton) and the school’s accreditation status subsequently revised, much damage has already been done to that school’s reputation by the immediate public posting of a school’s accreditation status. A school’s reputation is not readily repaired even when a “failing” graduation rate adjustment is made public, regardless of the recalculation and re-posting.
When I presented HB478 to the Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education of the HOD Education Committee, many members of our education associations, as well as members of the general public, lined up behind me to voice their support of this addition to the current Code. The Subcommittee discussed the issue and concluded with advice that I bring HB478 to the State Board of Education for consideration. I have requested that the State Board consider the issue and amend the formula to be more inclusive of the diversity in student bodies across the Commonwealth.
The graduation rate formula is a serious evaluation tool and should reflect the efforts made and resources expended by our public schools to educate students with interrupted formal education. The score yielded by the formula must not discourage that investment by punishing schools for offering an education that truly meets SIFE needs at each student’s optimal learning pace, and is not simply expedient.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]