Georgia school systems currently use 26 dropout codes, but have no way to track individual students beyond the numbers.
For the 2011-12 school year, however, the state is changing the way it calculates graduation rates.
Thursday night, Sue Derison, the Forsyth County school system’s director of information systems and support, briefed the Board of Education on the switch from the “lever method” to the “cohort method” of calculating graduation rates.
The lever method, she said, is “strictly a formula of numbers.”
“It’s not about the individual students, it’s just about the numbers of dropouts reported,” she said.
But under the cohort system, a group of students who enters the ninth grade at the same time will be calculated together into the graduation rate.
“[It’s] a calculation based on those who stay with us to graduate, not those who leave us,” Derison said. “So we have to track the individual students as they come into the cohort and as they go out of the cohort.”
The new system could be more accurate, but will require more work from school systems.
The districts will need a written record every time a student leaves the system, whether it was because they moved away or switched to a private school.
Derison said the numbers may not look pretty at first. Other states that have switched to the national formula have not fared well.
When North Carolina switched to the cohort system between 2005 and 2006, graduation rates dropped from about 96 to 86 percent.
Mississippi saw a drop from about 81 to 61 percent between 2003 and 2005, she said, and Indiana dropped from 90 to 76.5 percent between 2006 and 2007.
The change may not be as drastic in Georgia, Derison said, and the switch will help Forsyth compare apples to apples when it comes to other states.
“The community needs to know that even though the calculation rate changes, even though we started a new baseline, it doesn’t mean that the quality of education that we give today is any different from what we give tomorrow,” she said.
The timing of Derison’s discussion coincides with the launch of PROPEL, or Pathways for Reaching Opportunities in Preparing for Excellence in Life.
The initiative is a joint effort between the school system and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce to help increase the graduation rate.
School Superintendent Buster Evans said PROPEL has given the system a “great roadmap of action plans ... to get our graduation rate from being the second highest in Georgia to one of the highest in the nation.”
Evans said he’s prepared for the district’s graduation rate to fall with the new calculation, but being able to accurately measure against other systems across the nation “will be an opportunity to showcase our accomplishments.”