All of those in the education community warned that when Georgia converted to the new method of computing graduation rates, its numbers were going to drop. And that they did.
Being forewarned, however, did little to make the final calculation look any better as state officials last week announced Georgia’s graduation rate for 2011 was 67.4 percent, which on any classroom grading scale would definitely represent failure.
Georgia now has come into compliance with the rest of the nation by instituting a new standardized system of determining what percent of students graduate from high school within a four-year window. Under a different formula previously used in Georgia, the graduation rate had been calculated at 80 percent.
The formula change made little difference in Forsyth County. While the old method had shown a graduation rate of 91 percent for the county’s school system, the new calculation saw that number drop to 86.3 percent, 12th highest overall in the state and best among Georgia’s larger school systems.
In simplistic terms, the new method of computation focuses on the number of students who graduate within four years of entering the ninth grade. The previous formula used different variables, but didn’t require graduation in a four-year period.
There are arguments pro and con for various ways of computing the success high schools have in graduating students. For years educators have disagreed on what methodology for doing so was the best, and as a result there has been no consistency among the states in graduation rate calculations.
Now there is, and that is a good thing. If nothing else, those interested in comparing performance from system to system, state to state, will be able to do so now knowing they are comparing apples to apples rather than oranges to bananas.
Rather than worrying about the methodology, Georgians would do well to concern themselves with the end result. Had the current method of computing the graduation rate been in effect for 2010, Georgia would have ranked last among the states; the 2011 rate leaves it in the bottom 10.
It’s hard to present a compelling argument that Georgia truly is a progressive state committed to educational excellence when the numbers show that a third of the students who enter high school as freshman fail to exit as graduated seniors within four years. And yet that is the case, despite decades of educational reform directed toward improving public education in the state.
Under the new methodology, many of the state’s larger school systems had graduation rates under 80 percent, some under 70, making Forsyth’s numbers that much more impressive. But it’s hard to be excited about achievement at the local level when faced with the harsh reality of the state’s performance as a whole.
The new graduation rate will set a consistent benchmark to use in comparing schools nationwide. The sad reality is Georgia doesn’t compare well at all, no matter how you crunch the numbers.