ACPS Sees All-time Highest Graduation Rate and Lowest Dropout Rate for Class of 2021

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Data just released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) show that ACPS has achieved in 2021 the highest on-time graduation rate and lowest student dropout rate since Virginia began reporting these data in 2008. ACPS saw a nine-percentage point increase in the on-time graduation rate, from 82% in 2020 to 91% in 2021, and a nine-percentage point decrease in the overall student dropout rate, from 14% in 2020 to 5% in 2021. Graduation and dropout rates for the ACPS Class of 2021 improved overall and across a vast majority of subgroups, with the largest gains seen among Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. The previous highest on-time graduation rate for ACPS was 86% in 2013 and the previous lowest dropout rate was 8% in 2019.

“We are thrilled that more than 90% of our students graduated in 2021, and that the number of students who dropped out of school was just one-third of what that rate was in 2020,” said Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas. “We know there is still work to be done but I want to acknowledge the remarkable gains of our students, especially our Hispanic students and English learners, as we report the highest graduation rate ever for ACPS. It takes a strategic, concerted effort by our division leaders and staff to provide our young people with the resources and supports they need to earn their high school diplomas.”

The 2021 graduation rates for specific subgroups of ACPS students are as follows:

  • Black: 93%
  • Hispanic: 84%
  • White: 98%
  • Students with Disabilities: 95%
  • English Learners: 90%
  • Economically Disadvantaged: 88%

ACPS saw increases in graduation rates from the previous year across almost all student groups with the largest increases reported for English learners (+19 percentage points), Hispanic students (+15 percentage points), and economically disadvantaged students (+10 percentage points). Student dropout rates went down from 2020 across all subgroups — except for students with disabilities who experienced an increase in the dropout rate from two to five percent — with the largest gains seen by English learners (from 24% to 9%), Hispanic students (25% to 11%) and economically disadvantaged students (from 17% to 7%). Black (2%) and White (1%) student groups saw all-time lows in dropout rates.

“I want to commend all of our 2021 ACPS graduates for their hard work and resilience as they navigated a challenging senior year and achieved the highest graduation rate we have ever seen in our school division,” said Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. “We are so proud of each and every student. I also want to recognize the deep commitment and tremendous work of our families, teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and so many others in ACPS who did everything in their power to support our young people in earning their high school diplomas.”

ACPS leaders refer to several factors in explaining the large improvements in both the graduation and student dropout rates from 2020 to 2021, especially given the challenges for students and staff during the pandemic. A Graduation Task Force formalized the collaboration of leaders and stakeholders from all high school campuses, Central Office, the adult education and alternative pathway programs, and the juvenile detention center to meet regularly under the leadership of Principal Balas. The task force monitored the graduation status of all ACPS students, identifying those who needed extra support and developing plans to help them stay on track for graduation. 

The task force was developed as a formalized structure of collaboration in response to the need to increase the graduation rates and decrease the dropout rates of Hispanic students. The ACPS 2025 Equity for All Strategic Plan includes support for Hispanic male students as a specific area of focus, with all school plans incorporating the objective of improved graduation and dropout rates. The task force was guided by this strategic foundation and the involvement of division leaders who brought accountability expertise to the process. Additionally, ACPS used the tools and flexibility that the state had provided as mitigation against the pandemic-related impact on learning; VDOE permitted school divisions to award locally-awarded verified credits to students scoring above 350 on end-of-course Standard of Learning assessments who also demonstrated mastery of content through a review by a multi-disciplinary panel, rather than meeting the standard requirement, of which one part is a score above 375.

Another program that supports student success is the ACPS Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), which is designed to address the needs of all students and is intended as an early intervention to prevent long-term academic failure. Using MTSS, staff identify the students in need of significant intervention and support from social workers, counselors and learning administrators. In addition, those students who needed specific assessments or classes in the summer were encouraged and assisted with the process so they could recover any credits or requirements needed for graduation in August 2021.

“These historic gains in the 2021 graduation and student dropout rates reflect the daily hard work and determination of our students and staff. They deserve our congratulations and our deepest thanks,” said School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton. “I also want to highlight the collaboration and support from all corners of the ACPS community. My fellow Board members and I are so appreciative of the families, volunteers, partner organizations and others who work with ACPS leadership and staff for the well-being and success of our students.”

More information is available in a Sept. 24, 2021 brief provided to the School Board.