By Mike Klein
Georgia’s high school graduation rate could improve next year because the state will report the number of students who complete graduation requirements within five years instead of four years. Yes, you read that right, a five-year graduation rate.
“We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes,” state schools Superintendent John Barge said Tuesday. “Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes.”
Barge is correct. Graduation is more important than how long it takes to get there. The state will also continue to track and be able to report a four-year graduation rate.
The five-year graduation rate announcement was sort of secondary Tuesday when state education officials revised the 2011 class graduation rate down to 67.4 percent from the previously announced 80 percent. The rate changed because the federal government standardized how all states must calculate graduation rates.
Four districts posted better than 90 percent graduation rates – Chickamauga City, Bremen City, Oconee County and Rabun County. Ten county or city public school systems were at 55 percent or less. That includes Atlanta Public Schools which graduated just 51.96 percent of its students on time, meaning within four years, which was the eighth worst school system performance statewide.
The new method will put all states on more even footing when analysts try to determine where learning is most and least successful. The previous model did not fully account for dropouts and school districts also had trouble tracking transfer students. That created the possibility that graduation results could be inflated.
The new model is considered more accurate, but education officials have warned for a couple years that it would produce a lower graduation rate. In effect, they worked in advance to reduce the shock and awe factor.
Georgia restated graduation rates for 2009, 2010 and 2011. That is smart strategy. It takes the emphasis off the 12.6 percent decline for the 2011 class and it enabled the state to demonstrate there is a trend line going up.
Using the old method, Georgia reported graduation rates of 78.9 percent, 80.8 percent and 80.9 percent in 2009 – 2011. Using the new method, the 2009 recalculation is a stark 58.6 percent but the rate improved to 64 percent in 2010 and 67.4 percent last year.
The report is packed with data; here is some that jumps out and begs to be noticed:
Districts Above 90 Percent: Chickamauga City 97.44, Bremen City 93.18, Oconee County 91.57, Rabun County 90.4.
Districts 80-to-90 Percent: Union County 88.69, Decatur City 88.40, Towns County 88.37, Wheeler County 87.5, White County 86.45, Forsyth County 86.27, Morgan County 86.09, Clinch County 85.53, Pike County 84.65, Pierce County 84.23, Commerce City 83.96, Hancock County 83.51, Miller County 83.33, Gilmer County 82.39, Fannin County 82.18, Stephens County 81.99, Screven County 81.94, Gordon County 81.76, Pickens County 80.74, Dalton City 80.57, Glascock County 80.0.
Atlanta Metro System Percentages: Forsyth County 86.27, Fayette County 78.23, Paulding County 76.0, Coweta County 74.85, Cherokee County 74.82, Cobb County 73.35, Henry County 72.35, Douglas County 70.98, Fulton County 70.05, Gwinnett County 67.56, Bartow County 66.22, Rockdale County 66.20, DeKalb County 58.65, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48.
Districts Less Than 55 Percent: Dublin City 53.38, Greene County 53.19, Atlanta City 51.96, Clayton County 51.48, Taylor County 51.39, Bibb County 51.34, Talbot County 44.78, Crawford County 42.25, Baker County 41.38, Taliaferro County 40.0.
“I am here today to thank the Georgia Public Policy Foundation for your role in building a fiscally conservative, pro-growth state. Not only did you help pave the way for a new generation of leadership, you continue to provide key policy advice and to hold us accountable to the principles we ran on. In short, you have had a transforming influence on this state. We are healthier, stronger, and better managed because of your efforts.