Lies, Damn Lies, and Graduation Rates

To follow up on this morning’s post, VDOE’s “on-time” graduation rate counts the

  • Modified Standard diploma (students with disabilities who “are unlikely to meet the credit requirements for a Standard Diploma”), the
  • Special diploma (term not defined on the VDOE Web site but appears to apply to the Applied Studies diploma, available to certain students having a disability), and the
  • General Achievement diploma (none reported this year)

in addition to the standard and advanced diplomas. 

This gives a nice boost to the official “graduation rate,” especially for those divisions willing to misclassify students as handicapped in order to boost their SOL pass rates.  On the 2017 4-year cohort data, the “on-time” fiction boosted the statewide rate by 2.8% and the Richmond rate by 6.7% compared to the federal (advanced plus standard diploma) rate.


The boosts this year look to have mostly come from the special diplomas.


Actually, it’s worse than that.  Beginning with students entering the ninth grade in 2013-14 (i.e., this year’s 4-year cohort), there was supposed to be no modified standard diploma.  Instead, “Credit accommodations allow students with disabilities who previously would have pursued a Modified Standard Diploma to earn a Standard Diploma.” 

This change has three benefits for the education establishment:

  • The modified standard diploma students who formerly would not count toward the federal graduation rate now count,
  • The divisions have a new avenue – “credit accommodations” – for boosting the rate, and
  • The process is hidden from the public.

This explains the low Modified Standard rates this year.  Last year, those rates were 1.4% for the state and 5.6% for Richmond; this year, 0.1% and 0.5%. 

Looks like this year they successfully concealed about a 5% boost in the Richmond rate.

(The Modified Standard rate should be zero this year except that they get to fudge the cohort for students with disabilities.)

The only question here is whey they did not similarly transform the “special” diplomas into standard diplomas so they could conceal the whole, sordid process.

Added Note:  If we were to figure that Richmond’s federal graduation rate was boosted this year by about 5% (and the state by about 1.3%) because of the transformation of modified standard diploma graduates into standard diploma graduates, Richmond’s 69.9% rate this year


would look more like a 65.  If that were the case, Richmond’s recent swoon


would look more like a slump (and the state wouldn’t look so hot either).