At the beginning of September, we editorialized on the reported Standards of Learning test scores of students in the Alexandria City Public Schools under the headline “Not There Yet”. This week, following the release of data on school accreditation and on-time graduation rates by the Virginia Department of Education, we are continuing the theme.

Last November, the state Board of Education revised the Standards of Accreditation to provide a more inclusive look at schools than just the scores on the Standards of Learning tests and to give schools more credit for making progress towards the full goals of accreditation. Under the new state accreditation standards, Alexandria has 14 Accredited schools and two others Accredited with Conditions. ACPS has no schools that were denied accreditation.

This is significant progress on the surface but, as the criteria has changed, it is not yet clear what this means in the long run. We do not want to minimize this positive accomplishment. However, the schools need to work smarter to continue the record of improvement as the new system emphasizes the gaps in achievements between various ethnic and other subgroups within a school. Our original editorial highlighted the growing achievement gaps, particularly with Hispanic students and students with disabilities.  

The ACPS results for on-time graduation rates were far less flattering. Statewide 91.6% of students who entered the ninth grade in 2014 earned a diploma within four years. At T. C. Williams High School, the rate was 80.6%, which was a decline of 2.5% from 2017. For dropouts, the statewide rate was 5.5% for the class of 2018, while at T. C. Williams, the dropout rate was 10.4%.

There is cause for concern among the same subgroups that we identified in early September. While T. C. Williams’ graduation rates are very close to the state average for black, white and Asian students, they are about 6% below state average for students with disabilities and 9% below for English learners. The T. C. graduation rates are more than 12% below the state average for economically disadvantaged students and 17% below for Hispanics who make up the largest subgroup in the ACPS system.

There are certainly explanations for some of the differences, such as students spending an additional year in school. However, the graduation gap is significant. We would encourage the school system to produce an analysis of the graduation rates so that the public could understand fully what is happening. The state requires planning for corrective action where large gaps exist and full understanding is certainly a prerequisite for that mandated planning.

The accreditation and graduation rate results continue the theme that ACPS is underserving certain significant groups. It will be up to our new Superintendent and School Board to deal with these issues in a clear and meaningful way in the very near future.