The climb in Georgia’s high school graduation rate reflects two concomitant actions: Schools are working harder to push kids over the finish line, and parents are realizing their children have no future without at least a high school diploma.
The Georgia Department of Education announced today the grad rate rose again in 2018, to 81.6 percent from 80.6 percent in 2017.
District rates in metro Atlanta either held stready or increased: Fulton County Schools, already higher than the state and other local districts, remained at 86.8 percent. Atlanta Public Schools posted a 79.9 percent rate, a two-point gain over last year. Also improving over last year, Clayton came in at 71.7 percent, Cobb at 85.2 percent, DeKalb at 75 percent and Gwinnett at 81.7 percent.
As DOE trumpeted in its release:
This is an all-time high for Georgia’s graduation rate since the state began using the adjusted cohort calculation now required by federal law. Seventy-four Georgia school districts recorded 2018 graduation rates at or above 90 percent.
“Georgia’s graduation rate continues to rise because our public-school students have access to more opportunities than ever before,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “From Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education to dual enrollment to the fine arts, there is an unprecedented emphasis on supporting the whole child and making sure every single student understands the relevance of what they’re learning. I’m confident we’ll continue to see these gains as long as we’re still expanding opportunities that keep students invested in their education.”
Georgia calculates a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate as required by federal law. This rate is the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for the graduating class.
From the beginning of ninth grade, students who are entering that grade for the first time form a cohort that is subsequently “adjusted” by adding any students who transfer into the cohort during the next three years, and subtracting any students who transfer out.
While all states use the same calculation, each state sets its own requirements for students to earn a regular high school diploma. Georgia has some of the highest requirements in the nation for students to graduate with a regular diploma.
2018 – 81.6 percent
2017 – 80.6 percent
2016 – 79.4 percent
2015 – 79.0 percent
2014 – 72.6 percent
2013 – 71.8 percent
2012 – 69.7 percent
Of course, the next priority is Georgia’s college graduation rate, as a four-year degree has now become a gateway to the middle-class. By 2020, 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require a degree or credential. (And research out of Georgetown shows women have to go even further in their education to attain good incomes.)
Consider the educational attainment of Georgia's 2010 high school graduation class. As of 2015, 22 percent of the class had a four-year degree or beyond. That means 78 percent didn’t have a four-year degree. Among that 78 percent, 7 percent held an associate degree or a credential, while 18 percent were still enrolled in school. That left 53 without any degree or credential beyond high school.
In 2016, the highest average unemployment rate (6.5 percent) was among Americans without a high school diploma. Their average weekly wages were $520. Those with high school diplomas had a 4.6 percent unemployment rate and brought home $712 a week.
Associate degree holders posted a 3.4 percent unemployment rate and earned $836 a week. But those who earned bachelor’s degree were unemployed at 2.5 percent and earned, on average, $1,173 weekly
Typical responses to Georgia’s rising grad rate are skepticism and comments that schools are watering down coursework to enable more students to pass. But such statements are contradicted by several outside trends pointing to higher achievement by Georgia students, including rising scores on college admissions tests and AP exams.