Richmond Public Schools have lowest on-time graduation rate, highest dropout rate in Virginia

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BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – JULY 14: Students throw their mortarboards in the air during their graduation photograph at the University of Birmingham degree congregations on July 14, 2009 in Birmingham, England. Over 5000 graduates will be donning their robes this week to collect their degrees from The University of Birmingham. A recent survey suggested that there are 48 graduates competing for every job. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, V.A. (WRIC) — In a report presented to the Richmond School Board on Monday, the system’s Chief Academic Officer Tracy Epp said Richmond Public Schools again had the lowest on-time graduation rate and highest dropout rate in Virginia but that the numbers “are now trending up.”

Richmond Public Schools’ graduation rate increased by less than 1 percent to 71.6 percent in the last school year, according to data shared during Monday’s school board meeting, giving RPS the lowest rate in the state for the third straight year. While RPS’ numbers slightly improved, the report called the on-time graduation rate for Latino students “extremely concerning” after only 33.1 percent graduated on time.

“My concern is that we’re going to have to do something different. It bothers me greatly, and I’m sure all of us, in regards to our Hispanic population,” Cheryl Burke, the School Board member representing the city’s 7th District, said after the report was presented by Epp.

The report, titled “Dreams4RPS Goal 2: Graduation,” showed that on-time graduation rates improved for most students but dipped for Latino students, English Learners and those who identify as multiracial.

“Two or three years, we’re going to have to think of something outside the box. And I’m ready and willing to consider, being realistic, not to place, but to meet them where they are, which I know our teachers are trying to do,” Burke said. “But we may need to think at some point and have a heart-to-heart gathering, brainstorming session, bring together the community, particularly all these Hispanic community and find out what we’re missing.”

Epp noted that RPS has launched three programs, two specifically designed to support the system’s English Learners and Latino students, to help improve the figures.

Most RPS schools increased their on-time graduation rate, with Armstrong High School reporting an 11.3 percent improvement and the Richmond Alternative School’s rate going up 18 percentage points. George Wythe High School, however, had a 10 percent drop in its on-time graduation rate.

While the system’s dropout rate fell, at 23.2 percent it was still the highest in Virginia. “We believe we are on track to change this and we are very focused on changing this, but it is still a grave concern,” Epp told school board members.

The concern is that nearly 65 percent of Latino students and more than 61 percent of English Learners dropped out in the 2019-2020 school year.

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