W-JCC's graduation and dropout rates incorrect, district officials say

WILLIAMSBURG - School officials in Williamsburg-James City County say the graduation rate and dropout rate for W-JCC schools announced by the state on Wednesday were incorrect due to a reporting error made by W-JCC. 

The state Department of Education released the rates for every school division in the state on Wednesday. The release showed the dropout rate in W-JCC schools had more than tripled, going from 14 dropouts in 2014-15 to 49 dropouts in 2015-16, and the district's graduation rate had slipped below the state average. 

Based on those numbers, the district had more dropouts than Newport News, which is roughly three times larger. 

"I looked at it, and I said, 'This is not right. There is something wrong here,'" said Acting Superintendent Olwen Herron.

Herron said those numbers are wrong due to the school district submitting the wrong set of data to the state. 

“The responsibility lies with us. It was our error. We accept responsibility for it. I accept responsibility for it," Herron said.

On Thursday, school spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith explained how the state received incorrect data. She said when a student expected to attend WJCC schools does not appear, they are classified as "W880" within the DOE's computer system, meaning the school does not know where the student is attending. 

Once school employees know where the student attends school, they update the code and reclassify the student to indicate an accurate status. 

Overkamp-Smith said the school system updated their list of students throughout the year, whittling down the number of students classified as W880, but due to a staff error, the DOE did not receive the updated list. 

Overkamp-Smith said the school district switched student record collection computer systems this year, and this is the first year operating on the new system. 

DOE Spokesman Charles Pyle said he wasn't aware of any other schools having the same issue this year, but he said the DOE will update the data as soon as they can. 

"Educational data is very complex, school divisions have to submit a lot of it, and occasionally the human element gets in the way and we have a situation like this," Pyle said. "We’ll work with them." 

Herron and Overkamp-Smith said they did not want to speculate as to what the district's dropout and graduation rates would be once the DOE received the correct data, but they said they didn't anticipate a major difference from last year's numbers.

"Going from 14 to what we are right now, that is a significant, significant difference. Can we say right now we will (only) have 14 dropouts? No, we can't," Overkamp-Smith said. "But typically there is a little fluctuation year to year, and there wouldn't be this much fluctuation." 

McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

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