CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
The Associated Press
Georgia’s high school graduation rate for the class of 2012 has increased to nearly 70 percent, a slight increase under a new formula that saw the rate drop considerably in recent years.
State officials on Tuesday released the statewide rate of 69.7 percent for 2012, up roughly two points from 2011 — which was the first year of the new calculation and well below the 80 percent the state had under the old system.
For years, states had been free to calculate their own graduation rates, which officials said created inconsistent, non-comparable data across states. Critics said the rates were often based on incomplete information, so the federal government announced the new formula in 2008 and made it mandatory starting with the 2010-2011 academic year.
In adopting the new system, the U.S. Department of Education said having comparable data will improve school accountability and help inform officials about why some students fail to earn a diploma or take longer than four years to graduate. Officials say the new formula better accounts for dropouts by dividing the number of graduates in a given year by the number of students enrolled four years earlier.
Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said he was pleased the state’s graduation rate showed an increase. He pledged the state was working to keep student engaged so they stay in school and graduate.
“While our graduation rate is still far too low and we have much progress to be made, we are moving in the right direction,” Barge said. “In order to encourage more students to stay in school, we must make high school more relevant.”
Barge pointed to the state’s “Career Pathways” initiative, which allows students to choose an area of interest and take classes tailored to those subjects. The goal is to connect learning in the classroom to careers after graduation.
Eight school systems posted graduation rates above 90 percent. Chickamauga City Schools and its 112 graduates had the highest rate of 99.1 percent, followed closely by Trion City Schools with its 89 graduates and rate of 98.9 percent. On the other end, three school systems were among those with graduation rates below 50 percent. They were Randolph County with 49.3 percent; Talbot County with 45.5 percent; and Twiggs County with 45.3 percent.
In metro Atlanta, results were mixed. DeKalb County Schools, which has been mired in a battle over its school board and dealing with a possible loss of accreditation, saw its 2012 graduation rate decrease slightly to 57.3 percent from the 2011 rate of 58.7 percent.
Of the 8,204 students in DeKalb’s overall graduation class, 4,699 graduated in four years. There were some bright spots, with three DeKalb County schools posting rates above 90 percent. They were DeKalb Early College Academy, DeKalb School of the Arts and Arabia Mountain High School.
“We won’t be satisfied until all of our children graduate prepared for that next phase of their lives,” said interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond.
Atlanta Public Schools, which is still dealing with the fallout of a massive cheating scandal, also saw its 2012 graduation rate slip slightly to 51 percent from 52 percent the year before. Of its 3,674 students in the graduation class, 1,869 graduated in four years. An email seeking comment from a district spokesman was not immediately returned.
At other metro Atlanta school systems, the graduation rate reached 89.8 percent for Decatur City Schools, 76 percent for Cobb County Schools and 71 percent for both Fulton County and Gwinnett County schools.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Census released its annual report on per-pupil spending for public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2011. Georgia ranks just below the national average, spending $9,253 per student compared to $10,560 nationally.
Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP—Christina.
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