November 14, 2006
Director of Communications
Public Information Officer
Advanced Outnumber Standard Diplomas for Third Consecutive Year
The percentage of Virginia students who graduated from high school with an Advanced Studies Diploma increased for a third consecutive year in 2006, the Virginia Department of Education announced today. Students earned 37,998 Advanced Studies Diplomas last year, a number equal to 48.2 percent of last year’s high school seniors, compared with 46.7 percent in 2005, and 44.8 percent in 2004.
Of the students who earned diplomas in 2006, 50.7 percent earned Advanced Studies Diplomas, making 2006 also the third consecutive year in which the number of advanced diplomas awarded was greater than the number of Standard Diplomas.
"In the 21 st-century economy, the commonwealth is no longer competing with neighboring states, but with India and China and other nations that are aggressively pursuing the promise of the global economy," said Governor Timothy M. Kaine. "It is gratifying to see more of our students reaching beyond competence to achieve the coin of the realm – academic excellence."
To receive an Advanced Studies Diploma, students must earn at least 24 standard credits by passing required courses and electives and also earn nine verified credits by passing end-of-course Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (or substitute tests approved by the Board of Education), including tests in English reading and writing, two tests in mathematics, two tests in science, two tests in history, and one test in a student-selected content area.
“The relationship between rigorous standards and increased achievement is illustrated by the fact that a higher percentage of students are now earning advanced diplomas than in 2003, when students did not have to pass SOL tests to graduate,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Billy K. Cannaday Jr.
“Students are responding to incentives to reach beyond the commonwealth’s minimum diploma requirements,” said Board of Education President Mark E. Emblidge. “The annual increases in the number of students earning an Advanced Studies Diploma show that more students are setting educational goals that will help them and the commonwealth compete in the global economy.”
School divisions report that 8,564, or 22.5 percent, of the students who earned advanced diplomas also qualified as Early College Scholars, compared with 18.7 percent in 2005. Virginia’s Early College Scholars program encourages students to earn up to a full semester of transferable college credit during high school while maintaining at least a “B” average and completing the requirements for an Advanced Studies Diploma.
Nearly 95 percent of last year’s 78,913 high school seniors earned one of the five diplomas authorized by the Board of Education. The percentage of seniors who earned a diploma in 2006 (94.9 percent) was slightly higher than the percentage for last year, when 94.5 percent of the seniors in the class of 2005 earned a diploma. The number of students who earned diplomas in 2006 was equal to 73.8 percent of ninth-grade enrollment four years earlier, compared with 73.5 percent in 2005.
The increase in the number of Advanced Studies Diplomas awarded was accompanied by a decline in the number of Standard Diplomas. Students who sought a Standard Diploma during 2005-06 were required to earn at least 22 credits by passing required courses and electives and pass tests in reading and writing, and four tests in subjects of their own choosing. In 2006, 32,440, or 41.1 percent, of high school seniors earned a Standard Diploma, compared with 32,988, or 42.3 percent, in 2005.
Advanced or standard diplomas were earned by 89.3 percent of last year’s seniors, compared with 89 percent in 2005, and 88.9 percent in 2004.
Phase In of Standard Diploma Requirements Complete with Class of 2007
The class of 2006 was the third class of seniors required to earn verified credits by passing courses and corresponding tests to earn a standard or advanced diploma. During a transition period covering the classes of 2004, 2005, and 2006, students were required to pass tests in English reading and writing, and four tests in subjects of their own choosing to earn a Standard Diploma. Beginning with the class of 2007, students must pass at least one test each in mathematics, science, and history/social science in addition to the reading and writing tests to earn a Standard Diploma. Students may earn the sixth verified credit required for a Standard Diploma in a subject of their own choosing.
Project Graduation Online Tutorials and Academies
Project Graduation, a General Assembly-funded initiative to assist students at risk of not meeting the commonwealth’s diploma requirements, continued to help students through remedial academies and online tutorials in reading and algebra.
Eighty percent of the 3,116 seniors enrolled last year in the Project Graduation online reading tutorial passed the SOL English reading test, and 67 percent of the 580 seniors enrolled in the online algebra tutorial passed the Algebra I SOL exam. The pass rate for juniors enrolled in both the algebra and reading tutorials was 84 percent.
“Students who experience success are less likely to drop out, and Project Graduation is now helping students as early as their freshman year,” said Dr. Cannaday.
Seniors participating in Project Graduation academies conducted during the summer of 2005 and during the course of the 2005-2006 school year earned a total of 3,196 verified credits by passing SOL and approved substitute tests in reading, writing, and Algebra I.
More Students with Disabilities Earn Modified Standard Diploma
For a second consecutive year, the number of students with disabilities earning a Special Diploma declined while the number of students with disabilities who earned the more rigorous Modified Standard Diploma increased.
In 2006, 2,501, or 3.2 percent, of seniors earned a Special Diploma, compared with 2,585, or 3.3 percent, in 2005. Modified Standard Diplomas were earned by 1,905, or 2.4 percent of seniors, compared with 1,706, or 2.2 percent, in 2005.
The Modified Standard Diploma was created by the Board of Education as a challenging alternative for students with disabilities. Students must earn 20 credits by successfully completing required courses and electives and pass tests in reading and mathematics.
The requirements for a Modified Standard Diploma are more rigorous than those for the pre-SOL Standard Diploma. The Modified Standard Diploma requires three credits in mathematics while the pre-SOL Standard Diploma required only two. The pre-SOL Standard Diploma also required students to pass the grade 6-level Literacy Passport Test while students must now pass grade-8 SOL tests in reading and mathematics to earn a Modified Standard Diploma.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams determine whether a Modified Standard Diploma is an appropriate goal for a student with disabilities. The decision must include the written consent of the parent or guardian. A disabled student may decide at anytime before graduation to seek a standard or advanced diploma instead, and students seeking a Modified Standard Diploma may not be excluded from courses and tests needed to earn a standard or advanced diploma. A Special Diploma is awarded to students with disabilities who meet the objectives of their IEP.
Thirty-four General Achievement Diplomas were awarded in 2006. The General Achievement Diploma is not intended as a first option for high school students. Individuals who leave high school without earning a diploma and subsequently pass the GED examination receive General Achievement Diplomas. In addition to passing the GED, individuals must be at least 18 years old and have earned a minimum of 20 credits while in high school, including four in English, three in mathematics, two in science, and two in history.
Estimated Four-Year Graduation Rates
Earlier this year, Virginia reported an estimated four-year graduation rate of 79 percent for 2006 for the commonwealth on the online report card available on the department’s website (www.doe.virginia.gov). This estimate is the product of a formula prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and does not recognize the achievement of students who earn Modified Standard Diplomas, Special Diplomas, and General Achievement Diplomas.
The Board of Education’s Committee on Graduation and Dropout Rates is studying graduation rates with the goal of recommending a formula for calculating graduation rates for the state, school divisions, and high schools that are based on student-level data and more accurately account for students who transfer in and out of the commonwealth’s public schools, who dropout, and who are retained in grade during high school. The goal is to have an approved formula in place by 2008, when Virginia’s new Educational Information Management System will have the capability of calculating a graduation rate based on four years of student-level data.
Ninth-grade enrollment includes thousands of students who are retained in grade, or who are still classified as freshmen after completing one year of high school. For example, at the beginning of 2002-2003, 101,473 students were classified as ninth graders, which was 13,289 more than the number of students reported in grade 8 during the previous year, and 11,710 more than the number classified as sophomores at the beginning of 2003-2004. This pattern, sometimes referred to as the ninth-grade bulge or bubble, is not unique to Virginia and predates SOL testing.