Virginia’s students are dropping out less often. Will the pandemic disrupt the trend?


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The number of students graduating on time in the commonwealth has steadily increased over the last few years, with positive effects that will reach well into the future, according to the Virginia Department of Education. 

Compared to high school graduates, students who drop out are more likely to be unemployed and impoverished, according to the American Psychological Association. Federal data also shows a higher rate of imprisonment among people who don’t finish high school. 

Dr. Emily Goodman Scott, an associate professor at Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education, said that matters on an individual level. 

“Being able to graduate from high school opens doorways to other post-secondary options,” Goodman-Scott said. “That can lead to higher earning for that individual and their potential future family.” 

While it may be years before the effects of the pandemic on education fully materialize, there is a promising piece of data in Hampton Roads: dropout rates fell in three of the four school systems that shared 2020-2021 statistics with 10 On Your Side. 

In Hampton, Newport News and Virginia Beach, dropout rates have steadily fallen since 2018, a trend that continued into the pandemic. 

“There’s been a much larger increase in the emphasis that our schools have put on dropout prevention, so I think that’s one piece,” said Goodman Scott. 

But that long-term focus may not be the only explanation.  

In Suffolk, the dropout rate has gone up and down over the last four years but plummeted from 6.1% in 2020 to 3.8% in 2021.  

“Perhaps one of the silver linings to this very challenging time with the pandemic has been that some students have found success in virtual school,” Goodman-Scott said. “It’s an opportunity to really look at what’s happening, what’s working and what’s not working in education.” 

Chesapeake and Norfolk’s school systems did not provide requested data by the time this report was published.  

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