The state Department of Education released statistics this week showing that the high school graduation rate in West Virginia last school year was 89.8 percent. That’s the highest ever, and reflective of the upward trend. The graduation rate in 2010 was only 75 percent.
The national figures for last school year are not out yet, but the 2014-2015 rate was 83.2 percent; that was the highest ever nationally, but it was below West Virginia’s rate of 86.5 percent.
State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano made improving the graduation rate a priority when he arrived in 2014 and he’s delivering on that promise. “No other metric is more important in validating our progress than our graduation rate,” he said. “When more young people achieve and graduate, our entire state becomes stronger.”
Getting a diploma does not guarantee success—far from it with today’s information economy—but failing to graduate is almost certainly a recipe for a lifetime of struggles. “Individuals graduating from high school on average earn $260,000 more in their lifetime than those who drop out and are less likely to be incarcerated or become involved in illegal drug use,” Martirano said.
The superintendent credits, among other things, the Early Warning System, a program that monitored things like attendance, behavior and grades so teachers and administrators could help struggling students before they got too far behind. Schools also used a “credit recovery” program to help students make up work rather than give up when they fell behind.
Education officials announced the new numbers during an assembly at George Washington High School, which had a graduation rate of 96 percent in 2016. Principal George Aulenbacher spread around the credit. “I think that we all do a good job—our counselors, our cooks, our custodians, our administrators and our teachers,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education will soon release the first ever performance grades for individual schools. Grades of A-F will be assigned based on a series of criteria. These ratings are controversial—the teacher organizations believe they will perpetuate the idea that schools are failing.
However, the goal is not to embarrass anyone, but rather to provide some accountability. As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets done.”
West Virginia has a series of challenges in public education, including low teacher pay, lagging test scores and college readiness, but the significant improvement in our graduation rate and the new school accountability grades are positive developments.