Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

What Percentage of T.C. Williams Students Earn a Diploma?

According to recent data from the Virginia Department of Education, 86% of T.C.’s Class of 2013 graduated on time, compared with 82% last year and 77% five years ago. The state average, which is now 89%, has also increased over the past five years, but by a smaller margin.

The most noteworthy aspect of the data that were released last week is the improvement in T.C. graduation rates among subgroups of students that have historically experienced lower rates. Hispanic students had an 80% graduation rate this year, compared with 70% last year and 58% five years ago. Black students had an 88% graduation rate this year, compared with 82% last year and 76% five years ago. The percentage of Students with Disabilities graduating on time rose to 90% this year from 72% last year, and for Economically Disadvantaged students, the rate for this year was 87% compared with 81% last year.

In four subgroups—Black, Students with Disabilities, Limited English Proficiency and Economically Disadvantaged—ACPS outperformed state graduation rates.

There are two other important observations to make about these data:

  • First, the highly-transient nature of our school population puts ACPS at a disadvantage when comparing our on-time graduation rates to state averages. The state’s method of measuring graduation rates tracks the precise cohort of students who enter ninth grade together to see what percentage of them graduate together four years and nine months later. Because so many of our students live in precarious economic circumstances and temporary housing arrangements, they may relocate several times during the school year, either within ACPS or to other school divisions. Some students return to family in their home countries. Unless school officials are able to document that a student has withdrawn from ACPS and is now attending another school, that student is assumed to have “dropped out” of T.C. even though a fully informed observer might conclude otherwise.
  • Second, members of the Class of 2013 were completing their freshman year when T.C. was designated a persistently low-achieving school. They arrived at the main campus along with a new principal, Suzanne Maxey; funds from the federal government; and a long list of items that made up the transformation model: academic principals and grade-level deans, math and writing centers, the International Academy, data collection to track each student, etc. Because the superintendent and the School Board at the time realized that transformation of T.C. was also dependent upon students’ success in middle school, a number of key reforms that were implemented at T.C. were implemented at the middle schools as well: Individual Achievement Plans for students, Professional Learning Plans for teachers, and a much lower ratio of students to counselors, for example.  The bottom line: It may be hard to duplicate these impressive percentage point gains in graduation rates next year, but we’re likely to continue on an upward trajectory given the solid foundation that has been put into place.

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Kid-Friendly Concerts
Last weekend my husband David and I went to hear the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in its season-opening concert. They played Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and it was thrilling. I couldn’t help but think how amazing it would have been for all of our elementary and middle-school band and orchestra students to have heard that performance. Not even the most cynical of tweens could think that classical music is boring after hearing the Tchaik 5! (For a wonderful recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2JBT0HC98I)

If you’re the parent of one of these cynical instrument-playing tweens, keep in mind that the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra makes youth (ages 8 to 18) tickets available for $5. The ASO’s next concert, on November 16 and 17, features guest violin soloist Sarah Chang.  http://www.alexsym.org/

Also, the NOVA Alexandria Band will be giving a free, family-friendly concert, “Spooktacular Sounds in the Haunted Hall,” on Thursday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Schlesinger Concert Hall on the NOVA campus. Several T.C. Williams students perform with this group alongside of Northern Virginia Community College music majors and community members. http://www.alexandria-band.org/concert-schedule-2/

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