Despite the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, a high percentage of the class of 2021 graduated on time — a trend seen both locally and across the state.
The Virginia Department of Education on Thursday released on-time graduation rates and dropout rates for the class of 2021 cohort, showing more than nine out of 10 students who entered ninth grade during the 2017-18 school year earned a diploma and graduated from high school within four years.
According to VDOE data, 93% of the 97,155 students across the commonwealth in the class of 2021 graduated on time, compared with 92.3% of the 2020 cohort. The dropout rate for the class of 2021 dropped slightly to 4.3% from 5.1% for the previous graduating class.
“In addition to congratulating our 2021 graduates for their perseverance under extraordinary and challenging circumstances, I want to thank the state Board of Education for the emergency guidance it approved last fall that allowed for greater flexibility in the awarding of verified credits toward graduation,” said James Lane, superintendent of public instruction. “The board’s action — and the emergency waivers I issued last year — ensured that students were not prevented from graduating by pandemic-related factors beyond their control.”
Members of the class of 2021 were in the spring of their junior year when the COVID-19 pandemic first interrupted their high school careers. The class didn’t see a normal day of school their entire senior year — enduring hybrid or remote learning, canceled proms and limited social interaction instead.
Still, nearly all of them graduated on time.
Lynchburg City Schools
On-time graduation rate: 85.8%; dropout rate: 7.5%
Among the Class of 2021 cohort, Lynchburg City Schools saw an on-time graduation rate lower than the 93% reflected across the state.
While the division saw a dropout rate higher than the state’s, the rate is smaller than the nearly 10.5% and 9.3% seen in the classes of 2020 and 2019, respectively. Its on-time graduation rate also improved slightly from just more than 84% in 2019 and 85% in 2020.
Amy Pugh, deputy superintendent for LCS, said the division is proud of the accomplishments of its students and pleased to see these rates improving during the past few years.
“Our students have worked very hard over the last 17 months and rose to the challenges presented to them,” Pugh said in an email. “They have learned to be flexible and show grit during difficult circumstances. LCS staff work hard to increase the on-time graduation rates from year to year.”
Pugh said increasing the division’s on-time graduation rate is part of the LCS strategic plan. Pugh said staff is working to increase college and career readiness activities, experiences and curriculum at each grade level, as well as addressing student needs on an individual level.
Amherst County Public Schools
On-time graduation rate: 94.4%; dropout rate: 5.3%
Amherst County Public Schools’ on-time graduation rate fell slightly from 95.2% in 2020, but rose from 2019’s 86.1%.
Dana Norman, chief academic officer for the division, said administrators had their heads held high after seeing the VDOE data Thursday.
“In a year that was fraught with the unknown of COVID-19, our school community persevered and maintained an On-Time Graduation Rate of 94.4% which was above the state average,” Norman said in an email. “We realize that high school graduation is an essential milestone on the path to either college or a career. We will continue to strive to reach our goal for all students to graduate on-time, and also ensure that our graduates are prepared for their future and are Life Ready.”
The division saw an increase in its dropout rate from 3% in 2020, a trend Norman said the division is working to combat.
“... Our goal is to continue to help students from elementary to high school stay engaged, on-track and, coming to school in-person every day,” she said.
Appomattox County Public Schools
On-time graduation rate: 97.1%; dropout rate: 0%
Nearly all of the 172 students in Appomattox County Public Schools’ class of 2021 graduated within four years — up from 91.4% in 2020 and 93.2% in 2019. The division reported the highest on-time graduation rate in the Lynchburg area and, with zero dropouts, the lowest dropout rate.
Bedford County Public Schools
On-time graduation rate: 92.4%; dropout rate: 4.1%
Bedford County Public Schools saw an on-time graduation rate consistent with the rate seen statewide. While the current school year is his first with the division, BCPS Superintendent Marc Bergin said he is celebrating the three-year trend with the students, teachers, staff and administrators. Earning a high school diploma, he said, is essential.
“We owe that to our students,” Bergin said. “Our goal is not to beat the state; our goal is to be 100%.”
Bergin said he wants to focus more efforts on working to decrease the division’s dropout rate. In the 2021 cohort, 34 students — or 4.1% — dropped out.
Many of them likely dropped out because they needed to work, he said. To help address that, Bergin said he hopes to bring a “renewed emphasis on CTE and workforce development” by increasing internships and work opportunities for students while they earn their high school diploma.
Bergin added he was pleased to see the division’s on-time graduation rate for students with disabilities rise from 80.1% in 2020 and 83.2% in 2019 to 94.1% in 2021.
Campbell County Public Schools
On-time graduation rate: 94.4%; dropout rate: 2.9%
Clayton Stanley, assistant superintendent for instruction for Campbell County Public Schools, said the division was proud to see nearly 95% of its students graduate on time despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Their school experience was significantly altered by the pandemic yet they continued to work hard to achieve their goals,” Stanley said in an email.
Stanley said division administrators and teachers work to “build strong, student-centered relationships and atmospheres in their buildings,” which he believes accounts for the high graduation rates in the county.
Nelson County Public Schools
On-time graduation rate: 92.4%; dropout rate: 3.8%
Nelson County Public Schools saw a significant increase in its on-time graduation rate for the 2021 cohort from nearly 88.4% in 2020 and 89.6% in 2019.
The division’s dropout rate of 3.8% was slightly lower than the state’s at 4.3%.