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Graduation rates fall under new rules
BI rate now 64.4%, LCHS now 74.05%
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Here are graduation rates for surrounding counties:

• Bryan: 78.53%

• Chatham: 54.43%

• Liberty: 67.28%

• Long: 71.17%

• McIntosh: 76.92%

Source: Ga. Dept. of Education

The Georgia Department of Education on Tuesday released a new, four-year public high school graduation rate of 67.4 percent statewide, down from 80.9 percent under the previous calculation.

Under the new measure, Liberty County School System has a 67.28 percent graduation rate — lower than officials anticipated.

Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said during the Tuesday board of education meeting that the district anticipated a drop of about 10 percent.

“The state average is 67.44, so you see we’re right at the state average,” Scherer said.

The decrease stems from a change in how graduation rates are calculated, and GaDoE said in a news release that the new calculation creates a uniform method for all 50 states.

Historically, states calculated graduation rates using varying methods, creating inconsistent data across states, GaDoE said. Under the new calculation, graduation rates may appear dramatically different even if the number of students who actually graduate hasn’t changed.

And Bradwell Institute Principal Scott Carrier said that’s exactly what happened.

Under the new measure, BI’s 2011 rate is 64.4 percent — down considerably from 78.6 percent under the old measure. For Bradwell, the former 2011 rate was an improvement from 76.3 percent in 2010.

“We were told to expect a drop — the drop was just greater (than what we expected),” Carrier said, adding the decrease was “very surprising.”

Carrier could not speak thoroughly on the matter yet, though he will attend a training session next week where he hopes to get a more comprehensive look at the calculations and what the changed rates mean for his school.

Liberty County High School also experienced a decrease. Under the new method, LCHS has a rate of 74.05 percent, compared to 76.6 percent under the previous measure. Liberty performed better in 2010, when its rate was 80.1 percent, according to the GaDoE website.

LCHS Principal Paula Scott said graduation rates fluctuate each year depending on several factors, such as the number of students receiving a special-education diploma, the number of students who do not pass all five parts of the Georgia High School Graduation Test and the number who do not complete other requirements for graduation.

The new “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate” defines the cohort based on when a student first becomes a freshman. It is calculated using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers.

In contrast, Georgia’s current graduation rate calculation defines the cohort upon graduation, which may include students who take more than four years to graduate from high school. During the past five years, the state’s traditional graduation rate gradually has increased, rising from 70.8 percent in 2006 to 80.9 percent in 2011.

The new rate, which also includes subgroups, will be used for federal accountability purposes this school year.

“I certainly anticipated that our percentage would drop under the new cohort method of calculating graduation rate, and I appreciated the fact that it did not drop any lower than it did,” Scott said. “When you look at graduation rates of schools all over the state, our drop was relatively small.”

But what does this mean about the schools’ graduation rates?

“What I’d tell a parent at this time is that the actual number of students who graduated didn’t change, it’s just the way it was calculated that has changed,” Carrier said. “Who they have counted as a graduate might have changed.”

Both Scott and Carrier said the calculation can have a negative impact on a district with transient students.

For example, if a student moves from LCSS to another state and enrolls in school but the new school does not request the student’s records, that student would be counted as a drop-out.  Regardless of whether the student actually graduates, he or she still would count against the local school’s graduation rate.

“It hurts a transient community a lot, because we have a lot of students who leave here, and we don’t know where they’ve gone,” Carrier added.

However, when the new school completes a records request, the student then counts as a transfer and does not affect graduation numbers.
Both principals said their guidance offices will be more diligent about tracking students who leave to complete the required paperwork.

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