Specifically, more high school students are dropping out than had been previously counted, and some are taking five or even six years to earn a diploma.
Showing a 13 percent drop under the new — and tougher — measure, Georgia’s new rate is 67.4 percent, as op-posed to last year’s rate of 80.9 percent.
Although the numbers sharply dropped, administrators and officials say the new method will paint a more accu-rate picture of educational progress. Schools use their rates to prove they made Adequate Yearly Progress, the benchmark of success under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The new method is based on the number of stu-dents who started high school as freshmen in 2007-08 and graduated on time, in four years, in 2011.
According to Catoosa County superintendent of schools Denia Reese, using the old “lever” rate in 2011, as op-posed to the new “adjusted cohort rate,” Catoosa County Public Schools’ graduation rate was 82.4%. The 2011 class included 765 seniors and 630 graduates and included seniors who graduated in five years in the calculation.
In spite of this year’s lower cohort rate of 76.4 percent, Reese said, the true story is that graduation is on the rise and the new system is still better.
“With all states using a similar method to calculate the graduation rate, the adjusted cohort rate should provide a more accurate way to compare our performance with any school district in the nation,” she said.
Catoosa County Public Schools implemented a graduation task force in 2006 to determine primary reasons stu-dents drop out of school. According to Reese, the issue was absenteeism due to work or family priorities, which eventually ended up in low grades and ultimately withdrawal from school.
“We determined the primary reason students drop out of school is lack of attendance,” Reese said. “Many of our high school students have adult responsibilities that make it difficult for them to attend school regularly.”
The graduation task force implemented a plan to help more students graduate from school by providing credit recovery opportunities in all high schools and flexible schedules at the Performance Learning Center, a facility specializing in helping students dealing with difficult or hindering circumstances. Reese said the graduation rate has improved every year and the task force will continue to research opportunities to help more students graduate in four years.
Unlike the past procedure, which state analysts say undercounted dropouts and was highly misleading, the new data system requires schools to verify student transfers and ensure they are enrolled in another school. Otherwise, the students are counted as dropouts. States must now maintain a file on every student and track them from ninth grade and set their school, district and state graduation rates based on how many of those students receive a di-ploma within four years, which in turn is expected to improve accuracy and graduation rates.
State superintendent of schools John Barge said conversion to the new rate may be temporarily disconcerting for local school districts and parents, who view graduation rates as a measure of academic quality. But in the end there should be a more accurate picture of how many students both in Georgia and nationally are graduating from high school on time, he said.
"I believe that in order to tackle a problem you have to have honest and accurate data," Barge said. "We will be able to use this new data as a baseline to see how our important initiatives are impacting graduation rates in the future."