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Georgia shows significant leap in high school graduation rate

The U.S. Department of Education released new high school graduation rates today, and Georgia showed a considerable leap. In 2014-2015, Georgia's grad rate was 78.8.  In 2013-2014, it was 72.5.

Despite that significant improvement of 6.3 percentage points this year -- second only to Washington, D.C., which saw a 7 percent increase -- Georgia still trails the national average of 83.2. Nine states and the District of Columbia posted lower rates than Georgia, which has long languished in the bottom tier. However, if Georgia could sustain this rate of improvement or close to it, it would reach the national average quickly.

"The Georgia Department of Education has focused on providing new paths to a high school diploma – one diploma, with multiple paths to get there. Those efforts include strengthening CTAE and dual enrollment, providing assistance to help districts improve the graduation rate for students with disabilities, focusing on foundational skills in the early grades, 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,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods.

“The 2014-2015 graduation rates released today show progress for all reported groups of students, including students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students continued to narrow the gap between their graduation rates and those of their white peers, even as all groups made progress,” according to the US DOE.

You can find graduation rates and other information about your Georgia school here in the Ultimate Atlanta School Guide.

While most states have seen progress since 2010-2011, the District of Columbia showed the greatest growth last year, improving its 2014-15 rate by seven percentage points from the prior year. However, the District still has the nation’s lowest graduation rate of 68.5, following closely by New Mexico with 68.6. Iowa leads the nation with a grad rate of 90.8.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “We take great pride, as should students, educators, parents and public schools, in President Obama’s announcement that high school graduation rates have been consistently improving. High school graduation is an important accomplishment and milestone in the path to adulthood. Educators and their students have faced a recession, a changing economy and shifting educational standards over the past several years, and it’s gratifying to see evidence of what we know intuitively—that whatever is thrown at them, they always will try to succeed. Thankfully, there’s more recognition that teaching and learning, not high-stakes tests, are what matter in student progress."

Four organizations leading the GradNation campaign to raise the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 – the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education –issued a statement about the rise:

The continued increase of the nation's high school graduation rate is proof that when people unite behind an ambitious and important goal, anything is possible. The greatest credit for this historic high school graduation rate goes to students (particularly students of color and those from low-income families who are making the biggest gains), families and teachers who are putting in the work and showing great determination and resolve, often in the face of great challenges.

These efforts in households and classrooms are being supported by key leaders in education, business and the nonprofit sector who recognize the importance of a high school diploma to individuals, families, communities and the nation’s economy. Many have joined the GradNation campaign in pushing for a big, national goal.

What makes this new record powerful is that it is an example of a national commitment that spans administrations, parties and ideologies with hundreds of elected leaders at the local, state and national levels stepping up to help us reach our goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, their secretaries of education, and almost half of our nation’s governors – on both sides of the aisle – have put great emphasis on raising graduation rates.

In particular, states and districts around the country are making progress by understanding what works and implementing effective reforms and practices, like using data to make decisions, working to increase teacher quality, raising expectations for all students, paying attention to early warning signs, adding more caring adults into the lives of young people, fighting chronic absenteeism, and eliminating disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact students of color.

Some may question whether the rise in graduation rates is real; some may believe that high school diplomas aren’t a valid indicator of success. We know that the progress is real, and agree that in today's economy, a high school diploma doesn't guarantee success. But we also know that the lack of a diploma consigns a young person to almost-certain failure

Here is a chart showing the public high school 4-year rate 2010–11 through 2014–15




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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.