The new method of calculating Georgia's graduation rate has dropped the state from a solid 85 percent down to 67.4 percent and Newton County down to a dismal 64.14 percent - a 20 percent drop from how the rate was previously calculated.
Since 2003 the state has used the leaver method of calculating graduations rates. Under the new four-year cohort graduation rate system, the graduation numbers should more accurately reveal how students are doing compared to other schools in the county, the state and in several other states as well.
According to a press release from State Superintendent John Barge, the states have historically calculated graduation rates using a variety of methods, which meant inconsistent data from one state to the next. And while the new calculation method might cause a dramatic shift in rate percentages, it doesn't mean the number of students actually graduating has changed.
"The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school," said Barge in the press release Tuesday. "I believe that in order to tackle a problem you have to have honest and accurate data. 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. We've known for some time and communicated that this new formula would show a lower graduation rate than the rate under the previous formula; however, regardless of calculation formula, the state has significantly raised graduation rates over the last several years, but there is still much work to do."
Barge's press release further states that National Governors' Association began pushing for a comparable four-year graduation began in 2005 when governors from all 50 states committed to using a common method to calculate their state's graduation rate by signing the Graduation Counts Compact.
The new system begins tracking students when they enter the ninth grade until the time when they are expected to graduate four years later. The method used to calculate the graduation rate uses the number of students who graduate within those four years and includes an adjustment for student transfers. Students who graduate early will be counted in the rest of that student's ninth grade cohort graduates, as will seniors who complete their credits during summer school. Students transferring into the Newton County School system from a different school system will be entered into the county's cohort system, the same holds true for students coming in from a home school atmosphere or a private school.
Students who are held back will not enter a new cohort. They will be counted in the school's denominator and not be in the numerator unless they accumulate enough credits to graduate within four years, according to information released by the state. Students who drop out and obtain their GED are not included in the numerator. Additionally, those who do not graduate within four years are not considered drop outs, but they are not counted in the four-year high school graduation rate.
"The 4-year cohort graduation rate is a new way, and in my view, a more accurate way of reporting graduation rates," said Newton County Superintendent Gary Mathews in an email Tuesday. "It is tough accountability, but I believe it is the right accountability. In NCSS, we have significant school improvement efforts underway in terms of professional development for teachers and administrators-very focused on research-based instructional strategies, building student background knowledge, leveraging technology for greater student engagement and school-based professional learning communities wherein intense hands-on efforts are geared towards understanding our students' strengths and areas for improvement. This, combined with the opening of the Newton College & Career Academy, should better position our school system to positively impact future cohort graduation rates going forward."
With the new graduation rate calculations, Newton County high schools show a huge drop in numbers. The calculations were performed on students who started high school in 2007-08 and who graduated with a regular high school diploma at the end of 2010-11 school.
Under the new calculations, Newton High School has a 66.33 percent of graduates, down from 83.2 the previous year. Alcovy High School has a 64.71, down from an 87.4, and Eastside High School came in with the highest percentage, but that was still at 70.60 percent, down from 82.2. Challenge Charter Academy has a 7.14 percent graduation rate.
Several other states have been calculating their graduation rates with the cohort system for a year or more. From the class of 2010, the highest percentage comes from Iowa, with 88.8 percent, and the lowest from Oregon with 66.4 percent. North Carolina has a 74.2 percent rate, Florida has a 79.0 percent rate and Tennessee has an 86.1 percent rate.
In the state, several surrounding counties have scored similar to Newton County, including DeKalb County (58.65 percent) and the Atlanta Public School System (51.96 percent), both showing at least a 15 percent drop from the previous calculation system.
"This is not an ‘overnight' challenge," stressed Mathews, "but rather one of long duration."