Throughout the state, Georgians are celebrating high school graduates.
But figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Education show that, when it comes to graduating from high school in four years, the news isn’t all party-worthy.
The state’s graduation rate ticked up in 2012, but less than 70 percent of high school students graduated within four years. At 69.72 percent, the state’s graduation rate is slightly higher than the 2011 graduation rate of 67.44 percent.
How Georgia stacks up in comparison to other states won’t be known until this fall, when the U.S. Department of Education releases 2012 graduation rates for all states. Georgia’s 2011 graduation rate was the third-worst in the nation.
This is the second year graduation rates have been compiled using a more rigorous — some would call it a more accurate — method, which tracks students from the point they enter high school through their senior year. The previous calculation gave what state education officials now say was an inflated view of graduation rates.
“I am very pleased that our graduation rate continues to increase, no matter how it is calculated,” Georgia Superintendent John Barge said. “While our graduation rate is still far too low and we have much progress to be made, we are moving in the right direction.”
School and district graduation rates already serve as a stand-alone measure of performance. Parents and companies make relocation decisions with the quality of an area’s schools in mind.
Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark said strong schools are major keys to economic health.
“There is no question that education and training are critical components of economic development and business success,” Clark said. “Regardless of industry, a company cannot be successful without qualified employees.”
Most metro Atlanta school districts saw improved four-year graduation rates in 2012.
At 89.76 percent, Decatur City Schools had the best graduation rate among the 15 metro Atlanta districts, with Atlanta Public Schools, at 50.87 percent, bringing up the rear.
APS was one of three metro Atlanta districts — Clayton (53.61 percent) and DeKalb (57.28 percent) were the others — with a graduation rate lower than 60 percent.
Repeated efforts to reach APS officials for comment were unsuccessful.
DeKalb and Clayton both focused on the successes of individual schools in prepared statements accompanying the release of their graduation rates.
“Obviously, these aren’t the numbers that we want,” said Clayton’s interim superintendent, Luvenia Jackson. “But it is important to remember that these numbers are nearly a year old now, and we feel like we have already done a lot to address the issues that resulted in the lower numbers.”
Principals at four of Clayton’s nine high schools are completing their first academic years at their school, according to the district’s spokesman, David Waller. And the principal at a fifth school, Morrow High, is finishing her second year, Waller noted.
Fayette County Schools saw the biggest improvement in metro Atlanta, going from a graduation rate of 78.23 percent in 2011 to 85.53 percent in 2012.
Gwinnett’s School of Mathematics, Science and Technology was one of four schools in the state with a 100 percent graduation rate.
GSMST Principal Jim Mathews said the students accept and thrive under high expectations. “You’ve got to provide a high level of rigor with an appropriate level of support,” he said.
Fulton’s graduation rate was 71.34 percent, and the district had four schools — Milton at 96.37 percent; Northview at 96 percent; Johns Creek at 95.11 percent and Chattahoochee at 93.54 percent — with graduation rates above 90 percent.
Leslie Fox, the mother of two students at Johns Creek High, credited administrators and teachers for some of the school’s success, but said parental involvement and high parental expectations also play a role.
“The school is in a fairly affluent area,” Fox said. “Parents are high achievers, and the kids are high achievers. For a lot of the families around here, college is just the norm. It’s expected.”
Graduation rates are taking on even more importance because they are a component of Georgia’s new system for grading schools and districts, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, which is designed to serve as a parental guide.
The four-year graduation rates released Tuesday will be used in calculating the 2012 College and Career index grades that will be made public this fall. Georgia also compiles a five-year graduation rate, which stood at 69.9 percent in 2011.
Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the 2012 five-year rate hasn’t been compiled yet but will be used with the four-year rate in school and district College and Career index grades.
Explaining the difference
Georgia’s graduation rate, under a new federally mandated formula, was 69.72 percent in 2012, up from 67.44 percent in 2011. The state’s graduation rate under the old formula was 80 percent.
Four years means four years
Under the old system, which Georgia had used since 2003, schools were able to count students who took more than four years to graduate. Under the new system, the graduation rate is calculated by the number of freshmen who earn a diploma within four years.
Transfers and dropouts
Under the old system, schools counted dropouts only as those students who had declared their intentions not to return to school. Under the new system, if the school cannot verify that a student who has left the school has transferred to another school, then that student is counted as a dropout.
Georgia has released four-year graduation rate data for the 2012 school year. Most metro Atlanta districts saw improvements, but others continued to struggle:
2011: 67.44 percent
2012: 69.72 percent
Atlanta Public Schools
2011: 51.96 percent
2012: 50.87 percent
Top school: Early College High at Carver, 97.14 percent
2011: 82.32 percent
2012: 84.85 percent
Top school: Buford High, 85.59 percent
2011: 74.82 percent
2012: 72.65 percent
Top school: Etowah High, 85.11 percent
2011: 51.48 percent
2012: 53.61 percent
Top school: Lovejoy High, 72.71 percent
2011: 73.35 percent
2012: 76 percent
Top school: Pope High, 93.79 percent
2011: 88.4 percent
2012: 89.76 percent
Top school: Decatur High, 91.41 percent
2011: 58.65 percent
2012: 57.28 percent
Top school: DeKalb Early College Academy, 94.74 percent
2011: 70.98 percent
2012: 72.29 percent
Top school: Alexander High, 81.28 percent
2011: 78.23 percent
2012: 85.53 percent
Top school: Whitewater High, 92 percent
2011: 86.27 percent
2012: 87.78 percent
Top school: Lambert High, 98.95 percent
2011: 70.05 percent
2012: 71.34 percent
Top school: Milton High, 96.37 percent
2011: 67.56 percent
2012: 70.98 percent
Top school: Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, 100 percent
2011: 72.35 percent
2012: 75.54 percent
Top school: Union Grove High, 90.27 percent
2011: 56.01 percent
2012: 61.48 percent
Top school: Marietta High, 61.97 percent
2011: 66.2 percent
2012: 72 percent
Top school: Rockdale County High, 74.01 percent