ISSUE 2   |  NOV. 2008

The Council on Virginia's Future works in four areas -- strategic vision / roadmap development, assessment, service performance, and productivity improvement -- to enhance the state's effectiveness in making Virginia an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.


A Better Gauge for High School Graduation  back to top

Virginia’s high school graduation rate is one of the key measures reported on Virginia Performs, which helps assess the Commonwealth’s progress toward a better-educated citizenry and more competitive workforce.  And now Virginia has a better way to determine this important metric.

For the first time, Virginia’s graduation rate for the 2007-08 school year has been calculated through annual tracking of individual students using the state’s new longitudinal student data system, known as the Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate.  According to data recently released by the Virginia Department of Education, more than 81 percent of students in the class of 2008 graduated on time with a diploma.

That’s good news:  Young adults who fail to graduate from high school are simply not ready for the modern American workplace.  In fact, they pay a high price for it throughout their lives.  On average, adults without a high school diploma have dramatically lower lifetime earnings and poorer health outcomes than those with a diploma.  The differences are starker yet when compared to adults with a college education.

In addition, gaps still exist among Virginia's regions, where graduation rates range from a high of 87.3% in Northern Virginia to a low of 76.8% in the Eastern region (see graph below).

Improved methodology

Interestingly, as important as the high school graduation rate is for assessing performance, leaders have previously had to rely on estimates rather than actual results.  The problem stemmed from a weakness in older education data systems, which could not accurately account for transfers into and out of school districts.  On-time HS Grad RatesSchools used an approximation – the number of graduates in the current year divided by the number of freshmen four years ago.  Estimates might overstate actual rates in growing districts and underestimate them in districts with declining student populations.

The new Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate eliminates such guesswork. Said Patricia Wright, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction: “Effective programs to improve outcomes for students are driven by accurate data. The Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate replaces estimates with hard information – and that will help us shape local and statewide strategies to increase the likelihood that young people graduate with a diploma.”

The Virginia On-Time Graduation Rate is a cohort graduation rate that expresses the percentage of students who earn a Board of Education-approved diploma within 4 years of entering 9th grade for the first time.  It is calculated using a formula endorsed by the nation’s governors and subsequently adopted by the Virginia General Assembly and Board of Education.

A complex picture

“The fact that better than 8 of 10 students in Virginia graduate on time with a diploma is gratifying, given that estimates relied on in the past were much lower,” Board of Education President Mark E. Emblidge said.  “But even as we recognize this success we must do more to raise graduation rates, especially in schools serving minority and low-income communities.”

In releasing the new graduation rates, Dr. Wright cautioned against misinterpreting the data, noting that thousands of students who entered the 9th grade in 2004 remain in school and continue to work toward finishing their diploma requirements. Other students completed high school with a GED or a locally awarded certificate of completion.  “The drop out rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate,” Dr. Wright said.

VDOE will release cohort dropout rates for schools, school divisions, and the Commonwealth in early 2009.

In July, the National Governors Association reported that 16 states had published cohort graduation rates based on the NGA formula, which is contingent on the development of a longitudinal student-level data system and the accumulation of 4 years of data.

North Carolina, the only neighboring state that has implemented the NGA formula, reported a cohort graduation rate for 2008 of 69.9 percent.  Massachusetts, which is often ranked with Virginia in state-by-state comparisons, reported a rate of 80.9 percent for 2007.   end of story


The Virginia Department of Education has made a rich store of school and student data publicly available.
Just go to the DOE site's Data and Publications area to start mining the wealth of information offered.
One highlight:  The Virginia School Report Card, where users can explore performance data and create custom assessment reports for selected school divisions or even individual schools.

Be sure to visit Virginia Performs' pages on High School Graduation for all the latest data.

Young black man graduates from high school.



Agencies Take a Sharper Look at Productivity  back to top

Performance measures help Virginia’s leadership -- and citizens -- assess how well state agencies are delivering results.  Key and service-area measures in Virginia Performs set objectives and performance targets and regularly track progress towards these goals.  Now a new kind of measure – productivity measures – will provide an added gauge of how efficient agencies are in delivering key aspects of their daily business (for example, issuing licenses or processing claims).

As mentioned in our summer newsletter, all agencies will soon be reporting on at least one productivity measure in Virginia Performs.  By developing and reporting productivity data, agencies can better understand what drives efficient processes – allowing them  to more effectively target their improvement efforts in the future.

Virginia Performs productivity measures are tied to a key process – one that produces an agency’s most important service or product and that has a significant impact on customers, budgets, or performance outcomes.  Where possible, the measures are stated in terms of cost per unit.  Examples currently in use by agencies include the cost to renew a vehicle registration and the cost to process a Medicaid application.  Other examples include:

  • Cost per trainee successfully reaching employment.
  • Marketing costs per museum visitor.
  • Cost per permit issued or renewed.
  • Cost per claim filed.
  • Cost per application processed.

Agencies will be expected to develop multiple productivity measures in the future, but the immediate emphasis was to develop a minimum of one sound measure for FY 2008-2009. And even though targets aren’t required until 2009, several agencies are already looking to see annual productivity gains ranging from 2 to more than 15 percent. 

Agencies will officially begin reporting productivity data in January 2009.  end of story

Roadmap Development

Business Climate a Plus for Virginia back to top

Virginia continues to be ranked a ‘best state for business’ by national organizations.  In 2008 Forbes Magazine rated Virginia "The Top State for Business" for the third consecutive year, based on combined rankings for business climate, labor, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life measures.

While the numbers tell a good story for Virginia, the Council wanted to enrich this empirical view with the opinions of business leaders from across the Commonwealth on Virginia’s business climate.  Survey research centers at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a survey in 2008 and the results are now available.

More than 850 business leaders – from organizations small, medium and large -- participated in the survey, and, not surprisingly, 79 percent said that business conditions in the U.S. are worse than a year ago; and 73 percent were less optimistic about future business conditions.

On the positive side, almost three-quarters of business leaders rate Virginia’s business climate anywhere from good to excellent.  They also rated Virginia’s quality of life and higher education system as significant assets for the state.

Business leaders identified four key areas that the state should pay particular attention to in order to strengthen the Commonwealth’s business climate:

  • Workforce Quality. Business people are most concerned about the availability of good entry-level workers and technicians.
  • Transportation. Congestion was a particular issue in the Northern and Hampton Roads regions.
  • K-12 Education. The workplace readiness of high school graduates was a concern.
  • Healthcare. Rising costs across the state and lack of access in some regions are problems.

Government attitudes, tax policies, business regulations, and economic development are given fairly low performance ratings by Virginia’s businesses.  Although these factors are deemed low to moderately important overall, they are key elements in the perceived business climate that government can influence directly.

For a more detailed summary, read Issue Insight 3 (pdf, 184 k) on the Council’s website.  end of story