State School Superintendent John Barge and Georgia first lady Sandra Deal listen to Twin Oaks Elementary School students play bucket drums during a quick tour of Southwest Georgia elementary schools on Monday. The pair also made stops in Sylvester and Dawson.
LEESBURG -- Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge said his office tried to warn parents and school districts across the state that their graduation numbers were going to take a hit when a new formula used to calculate graduation rates was finally announced last week.
While many school systems were braced for the bad news, few were prepared for the steep plunge that rolled across the state.
Georgia's graduation rate fell from 81 to 67 percent; Dougherty County's plummeted from 76.7 to 54 percent, and even Lee County's dropped significantly, from 82.8 to 65.9 percent.
"For months, we tried to make districts all over the state aware that their numbers were about to drop dramatically," said Barge, who was visiting Twin Oaks Elementary School here Monday with Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal during a quick tour of Southwest Georgia schools. The pair also stopped in Sylvester and Dawson.
The new calculation, known as the adjusted cohort rate, will allow states to uniformly compare graduation rates across the country.
"This is a better method to calculate numbers, and I think it will be a better indicator of progress in our schools," Barge said. "Lee County didn't graduate any fewer students last year. Look at it this way: Think of the rates as a thermometer which reads in Fahrenheit and Celsius. The numbers on both scales are vastly different, but the temperature is still the same."
According to the state Department of Education, the primary difference between the two formulas is the new formula calculates the graduation rate based on the number of students who graduate with their cohort group within four years, starting when they are freshmen and concluding when they finish their senior year.
On the bright side, the numbers will improve when the 2012 graduating class's numbers are released in June, thanks to a move by Barge to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use a five-year scale for the upcoming graduating class, rather than the four-year scale that was released last week.
"We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education's permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes," Barge said. "Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes."