HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — In Henrico county, new data shows declining graduation rates, especially among English learners, many of whom are Hispanic. Here’s what the school division is doing to tackle the problem.

In 2018, Henrico had a better graduation rate than most of Virginia — but as the rest of the state saw unsteady improvement over the next four years, Henrico has seen a consistent decline, dropping over 2% in the same period.

Dr. Tiffany Hinton, head of research at Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) said that the trend was no cause for panic.

“Over the last four years, Henrico’s rate has remained relatively stable, with a slight decline the last two years,” she said at a school board meeting on October 13.

SOL data released earlier this year revealed that the pandemic worsened the achievement gap considerably for Black and Hispanic students.

Using a tool called the equity index, which measures the over- or under-representation of different student groups in certain statistics, the division determined that Hispanic students, especially those learning English as a second language, had actually seen their graduation rates decline much faster compared to the student body as a whole.

Comparison of Henrico data from 2018 and 2021, as well as state data in 2021. Data shows that even compared to the rest of the state, graduation rates among English Learners are much lower than their fellow students.

“We continue to see an under-representation of our Hispanic and English-Learner students in this indicator,” Dr. Hinton said.

But the county has already begun investing in additional instructors and a new curriculum to address the issue. In a presentation to the board, Mike Dussault, a school official, said a summer program for English learners has already shown promising results.

“This program targeted our newcomers throughout the district,” he said. “This all-day experience provided them an opportunity to build foundational academic language skills.”

Data obtained by 8News shows that Henrico used federal COVID relief funds to pay for many of those added ESL professionals, which Dussault said included 7 additional ESL teachers across the school division this year.

The division also piloted a “Newcomer Program” at Tucker High School, designed to help acclimate those recently arrived from other countries, who may have little or no English.

“Our goal is to replicate this program in other schools in the years to come,” Dussault said.