Georgia School Superintendent John Barge
ALBANY, Ga. — The U.S. Department of Education released its first state-by-state cohort graduation list late Monday, and Georgia did not fare as well at its neighbors.
Federal education officials say Georgia has a high school graduation rate of 67 percent among all students, ranking it lowest in the Southeast.
The data details four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-11, which was the first year for which all states used a common, more rigorous measure.
“This drop is not a surprise to us,” State School Superintendent John Barge said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “We knew that the transition to a new cohort graduation calculation was coming and were expecting a drop of between 10 to 15 percent. Be aware that we are graduating more students than ever before, but the calculation rate has changed.”
The varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable, while the new, common metric can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the new uniform rate calculation is not comparable in absolute terms to previously reported rates. So, while 26 states reported lower graduation rates and 24 states reported unchanged or increased rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot.
“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”
Under the old metrics, last used in the 2009-10 school year, Georgia’s graduation rate was 80 percent. Barge compared those numbers to a thermometer.
“If you look at a thermometer, one side will tell you the temperature in Fahrenheit and the other side Celsius,” Barge said. “The numbers will be different, but the room temperature is still the same.”
While acknowledging the new formula provides a more accurate view of nationwide graduation rates, Barge said the numbers remain slightly skewed because states define cohort groups differently and have varying requirements for graduation.
He added that some states award special education students diplomas by using different standards for graduation.
Georgia, he said, does not follow that practice, holding special ed students to the same standards as all students.
“We are working under the assumption that the cohort is being defined consistently, and that’s not the case,” Barge said. “There are a lot of shades of gray in that definition. But if we were ranked No. 1 in the country at 67 percent we would still not be happy.”
Iowa topped the nation with an 88 percent graduation while the District of Columbia was last at 59 percent.
Among Georgia’s neighbors, Tennessee led the way at 86 percent. North Carolina was at 78 percent, Alabama followed at 72 percent and Florida came in at 71 percent.