CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The number of West Virginia high schools considered "dropout factories" was halved between 2002 and 2010, and the number of students attending such schools also fell during the period, according to a study released Monday.
The average four-year graduation rate in the state increased from 74.2 percent to 77 percent from 2002-09, according to the report released by the children's advocacy group America's Promise Alliance, founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The 77 percent rate was 26th among the states and compares to the national graduation rate of 75.5 percent.
The organization defines dropout factories as schools that fail to graduate more than 60 percent of students on time.
The organization's goal is a graduation rate of 90 percent. The class of 2020 in West Virginia would need 2,988 more graduates than the class of 2009 to reach the benchmark.
The additional graduates could deliver an estimated $22 million in increased annual earnings, $3.9 million in higher annual state tax revenues, and $25 million more in the gross state product, the report said.
The report says 2,824 fewer students attended dropout factories in West Virginia from 2002-10. There were 2,609 students in three such schools in 2010.
"It's absolutely encouraging the number of students graduating has increased ... and we hope to see that trend continuing," said Liza Cordeiro, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. "We are putting a lot of focus -- time, effort and money -- toward our graduation rate, working collaboratively with several organizations."
For instance, the state Board of Education is funding projects seeking to become school innovation zones. It frees selected schools from some of the rules governing curriculum, scheduling and staffing.
State schools Superintendent Jorea Marple also has made personalized learning one of her priorities as a way of keeping students interested in school, Cordeiro said.
The names of the dropout factories weren't included in the report, although the authors say they will be included in the future once all states' reporting methods are consistent for high school graduation data. Based on a Bush administration rule issued in 2008, states are now required to use the same method to compute graduation rates.
The report also said students who took at least one advanced placement exam during high school increased from 9.2 percent in 2001 to 20.5 percent in 2011.
Eighth-graders who were at or above proficient in math rose from 20 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2011, while fourth-graders at or above proficient in reading dropped from 29 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2011.