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Posted: December 12, 2013 9:00 p.m.

NCSS: Graduation rate decline due to records verification problems

Newton County School System officials said a struggle to verify whether transfer students graduated caused both Newton High School’s and the school district’s 2013 four-year cohort graduation rate to drop.

The school system released data from the Georgia Department of Education Wednesday that showed that the school system’s four-year cohort graduation rate dropped by five points from 76 percent in 2012 , to 71 percent this year, and Newton High’s rate dropped by 16 points.

According to the state DOE, the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate defines the "cohort" based on when a student first becomes a freshman. The rate is calculated using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers.

Georgia’s former graduation rate calculation defined the cohort upon graduation, which might have included students who took more than four years to graduate from high school. Likewise, the five-year adjusted cohort graduation rate defines the rate for those students who needed an extra year to graduate.

When looking at the data, Newton High School’s four-year graduation rate dropped by 16 points, from 83 percent in 2012, to 67 percent in this year, below the state’s four-year cohort graduation rate of 71 percent.

Alcovy High School maintained its 74 percent completion rate from 2012 to 2013; and Eastside High School increased its graduation rate by one point in this year, from 87 percent in 2012 to 88 percent.

The school system’s 2013 four-year cohort graduation rate of 71 percent, matched the state of Georgia’s rate; and both Alcovy and Eastside topped the state’s rate this year.

NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said Thursday that after receiving the data from the state DOE Tuesday, she and school district officials immediately began to research possible causes of the significant decline in Newton High School’s graduation rate.

Fuhrey explained that it was determined that personnel at the high school were unable to verify all of the recorded reasons for student withdrawal.

According to a news release from the school system, as students withdraw, school staff must verify their enrollment in other schools in order to not count the students as "dropouts." When students relocate to another state, the verification process becomes more challenging. It is not that fewer students have graduated, but that fewer withdrawal reasons could be verified.

"The 67 percent does not reflect Newton High School’s graduation numbers; their numbers were much higher. What it reflects is the adults who struggled to locate families after they transferred out of Newton High School over the course of the last four years," Fuhrey said.

"In the verification process for when students transferred out of Newton High School beginning when they were in ninth grade, students, all the way through their senior year.… when they transferred out and went, particularly to other states, the school systems staff, the school staff had a much greater difficulty identifying where they were. And as a result, if you are unable to verify that those students enrolled in another school outside the state of Georgia, then you must accept those transfers as ‘dropouts,’ and that is exactly what took place."

Fuhrey said system and school-level processes are being reviewed to ensure the withdrawal verification process is consistent throughout the district.

"We have instituted a review of the processes and procedures at Newton High School to ensure that they are doing everything that they possibly can to locate students — from going to Facebook, looking on Google, knocking on doors of grandparents and relatives, in an effort to find out where they were," Fuhrey said.

While the school system’s 2013 four-year cohort graduation rate dropped, the district’s five-year graduation rate increased nine points in 2012. In addition, all five-year graduation rates were above the state average.

The school district’s 2012 five-year cohort graduation rate of 77 percent is five points higher than the state’s graduation rate, according to the data. The county’s 2012 five-year cohort graduation rates increased across the board with each school and the district posting significant gains.

Alcovy’s five-year cohort rate increased from 65 percent to 76 percent in 2012 and Eastside’s increased from 79 percent to 88 percent during the same period. Newton High School saw the largest increase in its five-year cohort graduation rate, going from 69 percent to 82 percent in 2012 — a 13-point gain.

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