The Georgia Department of Education announced in April that the state is moving to a four-year “cohort” graduation rate, in which a student is only counted in the rate if he or she graduates four years after starting high school.
“I have mixed opinions on it,” Carroll County Schools Superintendent Scott Cowart said. “But I applaud what they’re trying to do, which is create a consistent platform.”
Carrollton City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kent Edwards said he is supportive of the new calculation, but difficulties arise anytime a student transfers.
“I think it’s suitable for everyone to be on a similar scale,” he said. “It just creates some problems whenever we have transient students.”
The state average fell 13.5 percent with the new calculation, landing at 67.4 percent for the cohort rate from the former leaver-rate 80.9 percent.
Schools in Carroll County were not affected as harshly as the state average — Carrollton High School’s rate dropped only 3.31 percent, while the average of the high schools in Carroll County Schools dropped 8.478 percent.
State and local officials stressed that this does not represent a loss in the number of graduates, only a change in the data used to measure the rate.
“I think it’s important to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples,” Cowart said. “The calculations are not similar. They’re changing the numerator and the denominator of the formula, so comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges.”
The new formula, which better accounts for dropouts, divides the number of graduates in a given year by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier.
According to the Department of Education, cohort data was implemented this year after Gov. Nathan Deal and the nation’s 49 other governors agreed to participate in a common calculation method for graduation rates.
“The push came from the nationwide level,” Cowart said. “It’s not really for in-state comparisons, but more for comparisons across state lines.”
Cowart said he and his system believes in consistency, and he dislikes how this year feels like a “baseline” year that can’t be compared to previous years.
The state previously included all high school graduates in its calculation, despite the number of years it took for completion, hence the decreases. The change was made for federal accountability purposes, and states must provide these numbers in order to receive federal Title I funds, but next year, Georgia will use a five-year cohort graduation rate when calculating the average.
“That’s going to be much better,” Cowart said. “This year, we won’t be able to count anyone who takes five years to graduate or needs summer school or gets their GED. This year is an improvement from the standpoint of accuracy, but I think next year will be an improvement over this.”
Both the Carroll County and Carrollton City school systems have targeted the graduation rate as a point of focus in recent years, and as a result, developed several initiatives in collaboration with local businesses and members of the community that are aimed at keeping dropout numbers low.
Among these are Carroll County Schools’ partnership with Southwire Company in 12 for Life, which just finished its fifth year of offering at-risk high school students an opportunity to earn a paycheck along with high school credit; the Carrollton City Schools’ forthcoming Performance Learning Center, which is expected to provide an alternative learning environment for some students starting this fall; and dual system work on Communities in Schools, a nonprofit organization charged with gathering community support for students as they progress through school.
“Most systems have identified initiatives and strategies to target the dropout rate,” Edwards said. “And the programs we’ve put into place are meant to be remedial opportunities missed in the school day. We have opportunities after school that are not being utilized.”
Edwards said the system’s PLC will be particularly helpful because it will provide a place of student intervention without being an alternative school.
“The PLC is something for students looking for a non-behavioral structure to address students who need help and more one-on-one instruction that’s not in an IEP (individualized educational program) setting,” Edwards said.
Cowart said the county system hopes for consistencies in data formulation so accurate improvements can be shown.
“As a system, in every area we try to improve, we look for incremental growth over time,” he said. “We want to know what the pattern is because we believe that’s the fairest way to show our community how we are improving.”
Cowart said most of the system’s patterns are “moving upward,” which is a good indicator of what’s happening in the system.
The Georgia Department of Education’s data for the 2010-2011 cohort graduate rate, 2010-2011 leaver rate, percent decrease between them for the local school systems:
Temple High: 78.83 percent, 85.8 percent, 6.97 percent
Mt. Zion High: 76.84 percent, 87.7 percent, 10.86 percent
Central High: 75.09 percent, 78.9 percent, 3.81 percent
Bowdon High: 79.49 percent, 86.1 percent, 6.61 percent
Villa Rica High: 68.86 percent, 83 percent, 14.14 percent
Carroll County Schools averages: 75.822 percent, 84.3 percent, 8.478 percent
Carrollton High: 82.69 percent, 86 percent, 3.31 percent