The data showed Georgia as having an approximate 67 percent graduation rate, ranking among the bottom three states with the lowest rates in the nation, with New Mexico and Nevada respectively taking the lowest two positions with rates of 63 percent and 62 percent. Washington, D.C., saw a rate of 59 percent.
“This was not news to us. This is something we’ve been talking about for two years, ever since coming into office we knew we would have to transfer into a cohort rate,” State Superintendent John Barge said during a press conference Tuesday.
The last reported graduation rate for Georgia was at 80 percent and Barge said he had expected a 10 percent to 15 percentage drop due to the new calculation for a state’s graduation rate.
“It’s important to know that number of students didn’t disappear,” Barge said. “We’re still graduating the same number students, but the methodology has changed.”
The state previously used the leaver rate for calculating the graduation rate and Barge said while the leaver rate shows a higher graduation rate, both the leaver and cohort methods have shown gradually increasing rates over the last few years.
“We’re graduating more students than we ever have before in the state of Georgia,” Barge said. “Are we happy to be where we are? Absolutely not, but there are initiatives in place to make sure we graduate more students.”
He cited the ongoing push for consistency in calculating education rankings across the U.S.
“If you fully read all the information put out by [U.S. DOE], in the documentation what is not consistant is how states define their cohorts, who counts and what counts,” Barge said. “Something that we don’t know is what the other states do, but Georgia takes the [U.S. DOE’s] definition of cohorts very seriously.”
Barge said, for example, that some states have laws that recognize special education diplomas as standard high school diplomas, which would lead to the reporting of a higher graduation rate. Georgia does not recognize special education diplomas as standard high school diplomas and neither does the federal government.
“All students in order to graduate from high school in Georgia must meet the same high, rigorous expectations, regardless of disability, regardless of language, regardless of any incumbering obstacles one may have,” Barge said. “Many states have more than one diploma and that’s something Georgia did away with years ago.”
He continued to say while the state is proud more students are graduating, the rate needs to be higher.
“What we are focusing on is we know from research students who do not graduate high school will tell you they drop out of high school because they find it unrelentingly boring and irrelevant, so we’re working ... to define that relevance through career pathways to help students see the relevance of what they’re doing in school and why what they’re doing in school is important to their future and their success,” Barge said.
According to the report:
The varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable, while the new, common metric can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.
The new, uniform rate calculation is not comparable in absolute terms to previously reported rates. Therefore, while 26 states produced lower graduation rates and 24 states had unchanged or increased rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot.
“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”
The transition to a common, adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate reflects states’ efforts to create greater uniformity and transparency in reporting high school graduation data, and it meets the requirements of October 2008 federal regulations. A key goal of these regulations was to develop a graduation rate that provides parents, educators and community members with better information on their school’s progress while allowing for meaningful comparisons of graduation rates across states and school districts.
The new graduation rate measurement also accurately accounts for students who drop out or who do not earn a regular high school diploma.
In 2011, states began individually reporting 2010-11 high school graduation rates, but this is the first time the Department has compiled these rates in one public document. These 2010-11 graduation rates are preliminary, state-reported data, and the department plans to release final rates in the coming months.
Beginning with data for the 2011-12 school year, graduation rates calculated using this new method will become a key element of state accountability systems, including for states that have been approved for ESEA flexibility.