The Forsyth County school system took only a slight hit as the state shifted to a different method of calculating high school graduation rates.
The new figures, released Tuesday, show Forsyth dipping from a 91 percent graduation rate to about 86.3.
The district, however, still remains near the top of the state, ranking 12th of 180 school districts.
“We were well aware that the new calculation would have us dropping by about 5 percentage points and that did happen,” said Buster Evans, superintendent. “We are pleased at where we rank on the overall list of all districts in Georgia.
“I am also pleased that our percentage of completion is at an even higher level above the state average than under the old rate.”
The 11 school districts that ranked higher than Forsyth were all significantly smaller in size, Evans noted.
By comparison, the rate in neighboring Hall County fell to 72.7 percent, while Fulton County posted about 70 percent.
In Cobb County, the rate was nearly 73.4 percent and Fayette, to which Forsyth is often compared, was 78.2 percent.
The state’s rate did not fare as well, sliding from 80.9 to 67.4 percent.
The new approach, dubbed the cohort system, tracks students from when they enter their freshman year through completion of high school within four years.
Under the previous method, the rate was just a calculation of numbers, using how many students graduated versus dropped out.
Lissa Pijanowski, Forsyth’s associate superintendent, said the cohort method may show a lower rate, but it gives school systems the opportunity for expanded comparison.
“We welcome the change because we think it’s more accurate and we think it’s going to be a good opportunity for us to be able to compare ourselves state to state across the nation,” Pijanowski said. “And that’s something that our community asks for, and it’s something we’ve continued to seek.
“We consider this kind of our new normal, our new baseline data, and we’re going to make plans to move forward from here.”
While Forsyth’s rate remains high under the cohort method, there was more of a range between individual high schools.
West Forsyth posted the smallest decline, going from 90 to 88.8 percent, while South Forsyth dropped from 95 to 89 percent and North Forsyth went from 85 to 82.3 percent.
Forsyth Central’s rate fell from 88 to 79.7 percent. Lambert, which had its first graduating class in 2011 remained at 97 percent.
Pijanowski noted schools design individual academic plans to meet the needs of their students.
Looking forward, she said there will be more focus on starting the graduation path sooner, using counseling, intervention and other methods to lift student achievement.
“We continue to think about catching kids even earlier,” she said. “This is the first year that all eighth-graders are leaving middle school with a four-year graduation plan.”
Georgia was among the last states to switch over to the new system implemented by the National Governors Association. By graduation time in 2010, 34 states had done so.
According to Georgia Department of Education data, had the state used the cohort method in 2010, the estimated graduation rate would have been 64 percent.
That would have ranked last among participating states, according to the governor’s association statistics. New Mexico (67.3 percent), Louisiana (67.2 perent) and Oregon (66.4 perent) were at the bottom in 2010.
However, Georgia’s graduation rate using the previous method was still among the bottom 10.
Officials had expected Georgia’s rate to slide, citing the experience of other states. North Carolina went from about 96 to 86 percent when it switched between 2005-06.
“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,” said State School Superintendent John Barge.
“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.
“The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school.”
That’s the same approach Forsyth County has taken.
Pijanowski said being able to compare Forsyth to similar school districts across the nation should help push the local rate higher.
“Based on a different, more accurate calculation, we now have a better defined target for improvement,” she said. “With our graduate profile as our compass, all schools K-12 contribute to a student’s journey to graduate within four years.”