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Georgia’s graduation rate rises quicker than other states’

Georgia’s public high school graduation rate rose faster over one school year than any other state, with only Washington, D.C., having a higher increase, according to federal data released Monday.

The state’s graduation rate rose 6.3 percentage points, from 72.5 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 78.8 percent in the 2014-15 school year. Washington, D.C., schools rose 7.1 percentage points, from 61.4 percent to 68.5 percent. The national graduation rate — its highest ever — increased by nearly one percentage point, from 82.3 percent to 83.2 percent.

That is still more than six points below what a consortium of education groups says that nationwide graduation goal ought to be, but the number is moving in the right direction.

You can find your school graduation rate, test scores and other critical information in the Ultimate Atlanta School Guide.

State Superintendent Richard Woods issued a statement Monday saying graduation rates have risen in recent years due to several factors, such as programs that allow students to take college-level courses in high school, strengthening its Career, Technical and Agricultural Education programs and “eliminating unnecessary standardized tests.”

“We believe these are major contributing factors to the largest single-year graduation rate increase Georgia has seen in many years,” Woods said.

Officials also listed other factors. Some said schools have focused more on personalized instruction and using data to determine where students need help in the classroom. Additionally, more students are taking online courses to pass classes they initially failed to catch up and graduate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday.

A notable reason for Georgia’s increase is a significant rise in the graduation rate among students with disabilities. The graduation rate for that group, which accounts for 11 percent of Georgia students, rose from 36.5 percent in 2013-14 to 54.3 percent in 2014-15. State officials began a plan two years ago to improve the graduation rate among those students by creating greater flexibility, such as allowing some students with disabilities to take alternative math courses in order to meet the state’s math requirements. Georgia’s special needs students had third-lowest in the nation, but it is now better than six other states and the District of Columbia.

Georgia’s 78.8 percent graduation rate, though, is still below the national average. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia were lower. State officials have blamed the below-average graduation rate on more rigorous course requirements that must be passed to earn a diploma.

The federal data shows students who have trouble speaking English graduate well below the national average, with graduation rates around 65 percent. Many Georgia schools have tried to help new international students by pairing them with teachers who have special language training. Teachers enlist students who speak the same language to help newcomers learn the ropes and adjust.

The GradNation campaign, a consortium of several education groups, said the rise in the nation’s graduation rate is encouraging but reiterated its desire to see the rate be 90 percent by 2020.

“If we are to reach 90 percent, we must redouble our efforts to close graduation gaps for key subgroups including students of color and students from low-income families, English-language learners, homeless students, and students with disabilities,” said Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance, one of the groups that is part of the GradNation campaign.

President Obama celebrated the findings at a Washington school Monday, but urged states to spend more on k-12 and higher education programs.

“We’ve still got too many states that have not really worked in a serious way to raise standards and improve performance,” Obama said. “In too many school districts, we still have schools that, despite the heroic efforts of a lot of great teachers, are not fully preparing our kids for success because they just don’t have the resources to do it or the structure to do it.”

Gov. Nathan Deal pushed an increase in education spending, which is the largest slice of the state budget, this year and hopes to create a new school funding formula before his second-term ends in 2018. Many school superintendents have complained they are not receiving as much money as they should under the current formula.

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