Earlier this week, the State Board of Education released new graduation-rate calculations for Georgia’s school systems, and individual schools.
In Clayton County, the overall high school graduation rate is 51.48 percent under the new formula, down from 80.2 percent under the previous one. For the state, the overall rate –– the report showed –– is 67.4 percent, compared to the previous rate of 80.9 percent.
The state’s new calculations account for students who graduate within four years of high school (a cohort, which begins freshman year), and includes a formula for student transfers. It contrasts with the previous calculations, which measured the rate of high school seniors who graduated, some of whom may have taken more than 4 years to do so.
Under the new method of calculating, individual Clayton County high schools’ graduation rates range from 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, at 42.50 percent. No figures were available for Drew, which graduates its first class this spring.
Last year, before the state was granted a waiver for meeting mandates required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, many high schools across the state failed to meet the graduation standards then in place, including most of Clayton County’s schools. The standard last year was a graduation rate of 85 percent, which was up from a requirement of 80 percent in 2010. Under the old formula, individual scores in Clayton County indicated that schools were making progress, however. Those results included: Forest Park with a 78.5 percent graduation rate; Jonesboro, at 88.8 percent; Lovejoy, 81.5 percent; Morrow, 76.8 percent; Mt. Zion, 79.6 percent; Mundy's Mill, 80.1 percent; North Clayton, 75.3 percent, and Riverdale, at 82.7 percent.
Lovejoy High School Principal Keith Colbert, whose school had the highest graduation percentage under the new calculation, but was still well below its rate under the old method of calculating, said he was not surprised by the results of new graduation calculations.
“We were told last year that the graduation rate would drop about 16 percent, once we switched over to the new formula,” said Colbert.
According 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 rates beginning with data from the 2010-2011 school year.
Colbert said, in his opinion, the new method for calculating the graduation rate is more accurate than the previous one.
“This will drive teachers, students and parents to get students to graduate within four years’ time,” he said. “Any accountability measure is a good driving force.”
According to state officials, the biggest difference now is that the state must start calculating from when a 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 overall high school graduation rate was above 80 percent. Using the cohort concept, the rate 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 State School Superintendent John Barge, in previous statement. “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.”
Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Pam Adamson said she is not yet certain how accurate the new calculations are, when taking into account high mobility among students in a school district. “I would have to do more research on this new calculation to get a better understanding,” she said. “Clayton County is a highly mobile area, and many students move out of state, and to other school districts.”
Barge noted that the new rate, which also includes subgroups, will be used for federal accountability purposes this school year. However, he added that the state has received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for 2012.
Colbert said the five-year cohort graduation rate will allow for freshman students, who need extra academic remediation, or time to make up classes by their junior or senior years.
For more information about the new graduation rate, the state Department of Education has provided detailed answers, which are available at: www.gadoe.org.