Still, both state and local district officials must deal with an overall drop in the rate to conform to the new way of calculating the rates based on new national standards.
The new calculation, known as the adjusted cohort rate, provides states a more uniform way of comparing four-year graduation rates.
The Cherokee County School District came in at a 74.82 percent graduation rate, compared to the state’s overall rate of 67.4 percent. The district’s rate was previously 82.1 percent under the old way of calculated the numbers of students who make it through high school in four years.
However, educators point out the county’s numbers are skewed by the four-year graduation rate at the Polaris Evening School and that the majority of county high schools showed a considerably higher rate than the average, even under the new figures.
In the state’s school-by-school rate Creekview High School was at 86.91 percent, Etowah High School was at 82.7 percent, Sequoyah High School showed 80 percent, Woodstock High School at 81.4 percent, Cherokee High School at 72.13 percent and Polaris Evening School was at 18.46 percent.
All of the district’s schools saw a decrease from the previous rate, with Sequoyah seeing the greatest drop of over 15 percent.
Polaris Evening School’s over 14 percent drop and new graduation rate is not an adequate measure of the school’s success, said district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby in a release Tuesday on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo.
“Despite its many successes and accomplishments, which should have spurred support and replication throughout the state and nation, Polaris has, instead, continued to be subjected to inequities resulting from the No Child Left Behind Act and Adequate Yearly Progress,” the release said. “Instead of being lauded for preventing hundreds of students from dropping out of school, Polaris annually has been labeled a ‘Needs Improvement’ school because NCLB measures high schools, in part, via a ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition of graduation rate … making no concessions or allowances for alternative definitions of success outside the scope of the traditional high school experience and timeframe.”
The release went on to say that every student graduating from Polaris represents another student who would likely not have graduated at all without the alternative school option, causing the official graduation rate at Polaris to appear much lower than traditional high schools.
In an attempt to resolve this issue, the local school board will vote to change the status of Polaris to that of a program rather than continue to be defined as a school at the April 19 Board of Education meeting.
The release said this agenda item is “in an effort to avoid having the laudable work of the students and staff at Polaris viewed with disapproval instead of the respect they deserve.” The change will not alter any of Polaris’ curricular or operational components, according to the release.
Also, the district made note in the release that the cohort of students represented within this new calculation is the first to be negatively impacted by the new graduation rule, which requires more science; and the new mathematics curriculum, which requires support classes for students struggling in math.
“Taken together, these two requirements make it more difficult for students to accumulate the new number of units needed for graduation,” the release said.
In addition, the release said special education students who graduated in their fifth or sixth year of high school were counted in the old calculation, but those students are not counted under the new measurement even if they earn a regular diploma.
Finally, the release said under the old calculation, undocumented cases of students moving out of state were assumed to be transfers based on anecdotal evidence and did not negatively impact graduation rate. Under the new calculation, written documentation is required for all transfers and if documentation is not obtained within a certain timeframe, the student is assumed to be a dropout.
Meanwhile, the new statewide rate is 12.6 percent less than what has been reported in previous calculations, but state schools Superintendent Dr. John Barge said his department has warned the public that the new formula would show a lower graduation rate than the rate under the previous formula.
“The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school,” Barge said. “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.”
However, Barge said regardless of the formula, Georgia has significantly raised graduation rates over the last several years.
“But there is still much work to do,” he said.
Tara N. Tucci, a senior research and policy associate at the Washington-based advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education, echoed Barge’s statements.
“It’s important that it gets out that these drops aren’t the result of a state doing worse,” Tucci said. “Now we have an accurate picture.”
Georgia’s previous calculation, initiated in 2003, was called the “leaver rate” method of calculating the graduation rate. Critics of this method allege it does not provide complete dropout data.
The main difference in calculating the new graduation rate from the “leaver rate” method is in the definition of the cohort, which will now be 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,” said Matt Cardoza, communications director for the state DOE.
Georgia’s previous graduation rate calculation defines the cohort upon graduation, which may include students who take more than four years to graduate from high school. Cardoza said over the past five years, the state’s graduation rate has gradually increased, rising from 70.8 percent in 2006 to 80.9 percent in 2011.
“We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes,” Superintendent Barge said. “Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes.”