Governor Warner Announces Pilot Programs to Help Class of 2004 Meet Graduation Requirement Deadline

June 3, 2003

Governor Warner Announces Pilot Programs to Help Class of 2004 Meet Graduation Requirement Deadline
— Project Graduation includes regional academies, Internet tutorials, distance learning opportunities, and sharing of best practices to meet deadline set in 1998 —
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY — Governor Mark R. Warner today announced "Project Graduation," an innovative plan to help rising high school seniors meet next year's requirements for a Standard Diploma. Project Graduation combines regional summer academies, expanded access to online tutorials, distance learning opportunities, and statewide dissemination of information on other effective models that help students.

"The great majority of students in the class of 2004 are 'on track' for graduation, but we must be prepared to walk that extra mile with students who need help and are willing to do their part," said Governor Warner. "Project Graduation builds innovative partnerships so that school divisions can share their best ideas and programs to help students all across the Commonwealth."

Project Graduation consists of three pilot programs offering direct assistance to students, and a fourth demonstration project that highlights "best practices" for school divisions in tracking the progress of students in earning the credits required for a Standard Diploma. Project Graduation will be funded with federal dollars designed to underwrite innovative pilot programs to support statewide education reform efforts.

"By testing a variety of approaches this summer, we will identify what works for students, and share our results so school divisions will be in a better position to offer effective assistance in 2004," Governor Warner said.

To graduate with a Standard Diploma in 2004 and beyond, students must earn 22 standard units of credit by passing the required number of courses and six verified units of credit by demonstrating proficiency on SOL tests and other assessments approved by the Board of Education. Two of the six verified units of credit must be in English reading and writing. During a transition period including the classes of 2004, 2005, and 2006, students may lean on their strongest subjects, including career and technical education, for the other four verified units of credit. Beginning with the class of 2007, students must earn two verified units of credit in English, one each in mathematics, science, and social studies and one in a subject of their own choosing.

Governor Warner announced Project Graduation while visiting Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield County. A key element of Project Graduation is patterned after an innovative program at Meadowbrook High School that will provide focused remediation this summer to students in Chesterfield County who need additional instruction before retaking Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in English and other subjects.

Project Graduation will replicate the Chesterfield County program in three locations in rural Southside Virginia: Prince Edward County High School in Farmville, Nottoway High School in Nottoway, and Brunswick Technical Center in Lawrenceville. The three-week summer academies will offer tailored instruction in reading, writing, and Algebra I to 120 rising seniors who have passed courses required for graduation but have not been able to demonstrate proficiency on corresponding SOL tests. The maximum pupil-teacher ratio in each academy will range from 10:1 to 18:1. Students will be allowed to retake the tests as soon as their teachers think they are ready, and students may leave the academies as soon as they pass.

"These academies will bring together some of Virginia's best teachers," said Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan. "Teachers will be paid for the entire academy, even if they are able to correct the deficits of their students after the first week of instruction. The sooner students accomplish what they need to accomplish, the sooner everyone can get back to enjoying the summer."

In addition, Project Graduation will offer access to 200 students statewide to successful online tutorials in English, mathematics, social studies, and science developed by Chesterfield County Public Schools. The tutorials, which will be available by fall 2003, will be geared to the remediation needs of students who have passed courses but have not earned corresponding verified units of credit. Providing access to tutorials via the Internet will allow students to learn and prepare at their own pace and on their own time.

"School divisions have known since 1998 that eventually their students would have to earn verified units of credit to graduate," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary. "The beauty of Project Graduation is that it allows students across the state to benefit from innovative programs developed in other school divisions."

A third component of Project Graduation will provide scholarships this summer enabling 100 rising seniors to take online distance learning courses in tenth- and eleventh-grade English. The courses were developed by Prince William County and York County, and are designed for students who need to earn standard units of credit in English to prepare for retakes of the English SOL tests.

Schools may enroll additional students in the English courses beyond the 100 scholarship positions, as well as other online courses, on a "space available" basis for modest tuition payments to the originating school divisions. Courses available online include: English 10, 11, 12; Algebra I, II; Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry; and World History and U.S. History. Registration for the courses offered by Prince William County is open through June 26. Registration for York County courses is open through June 13.

The fourth element of Project Graduation involves providing Arlington County with a mini-grant enabling the school division to share its best practices, through a "case manager" approach to graduation with other divisions. This year, every junior in Arlington with fewer than four verified units of credit was assigned a case manager to plan remediation and work with parents on issues impacting achievement, such as attendance. The teachers, counselors, and other employees who serve as case managers receive a per-pupil stipend. In August, rising seniors in Arlington County who still lack the six verified units of credit required for a Standard Diploma will be transferred from elective courses to remedial courses in subject areas that offer opportunities for earning needed verified units of credit. The Project Graduation mini-grant will enable Arlington County to develop a Web site and training materials on its case manager approach for use by other school divisions.

"Virginia has been steadily increasing academic standards since 1995," said Governor Warner. "Project Graduation represents our commitment to build on this push for greater accountability by providing needed resources and innovative ideas to help school divisions provide help to the students who need it, regardless of how many or how few."