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New formula knocks district high school graduation rate down

Clayton County’s high school graduation rates have plummeted, based on the new calculation released by the State Board of Education.

The report indicates that overall high school graduation rate is 51.48 percent under the new formula, down from 80.2 percent under the old one. The report also showed the graduation rate has declined across the state, to 67.4 percent.

“We’ve known for some time and communicated that this new formula would show a lower graduation rate than the rate under the previous formula,” said State School Superintendent John Barge. “However, regardless of calculation formula, the state has significantly raised graduation rates over the last several years, but there is still much work to do.”

Under the new calculation method, individual Clayton County high school graduation rates range from roughly 42 percent to 61 percent. Lovejoy High is at 61.12 percent; Jonesboro High, 58.45 percent; Mundy’s Mill High, 57.87 percent; Mt. Zion High, 56.58 percent; Riverdale High, 53.58 percent; Morrow High, 51.29 percent; North Clayton High, 48.82 percent; and Forest Park High, 42.50 percent. No figures were available for Drew, which graduates its first class this spring.

According state school officials, while falling in line with federal mandates, the new calculations will make it easier to compare how Georgia compares with other states. In the past, each state had its own method of figuring out graduation rates. But U.S. Department of Education regulations required states receiving Title I funds — that is, money for schools with a certain percentage of low-income students — to begin calculating and reporting the more uniform rate beginning with 2010-2011 data.

The biggest difference is that the state must start calculating from when the student begins high school as a freshman, rather than calculating backward from the end, when he or she graduates. In education circles, the former is called the “cohort” rate, while the latter is called the “leaver” rate.

Using the leaver rate, Georgia’s high school graduation rates were near 80 percent. Using the cohort rate, the rates fell to 67.4 percent.

“The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school,” said Barge. “I believe that in order to tackle a problem you have to have honest and accurate data. We will be able to use this new data as a baseline to see how our important initiatives are impacting graduation rates in the future.”

Last year, before the state was granted a waiver for meeting mandates required by the No Child Left Behind Act, high school students across the state failed to meet the graduation standards, including Clayton County. Last year, the graduation rate high schools had to meet was 85 percent, up from 80 percent in 2010. The rate was expected to increase on a yearly basis until it reached 100 percent.

However, the report showed last year, that the graduation rate for all Georgia high schools was at 79.5 percent, a slight decrease from 2010 graduation rate of 79.9 percent. In Clayton County, last year, the overall graduation rate for the district was at 80.2 percent, a slight decrease from the 81.6 percent from 2010.

Barge said the new rate, which also includes subgroups, will be used for federal accountability purposes this school year. However, he added the state has received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for 2012.

“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,” said Barge. “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.”

For more information about the new graduation rate, the state Department of Education has provided detailed answers available at, www.gadoe.org.