Georgia’s high school graduation rate is the highest it’s been since 2012. The Georgia Department of Education announced Wednesday 81.6 percent of students graduated on time in the spring of 2018. That’s a one percent increase from the previous year’s rate of 80.6 percent.
Moving the Needle
Dana Rickman, vice president at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said the uptick shows growth, even though it’s small.
“At a certain point, you’ve got 80 percent of your kids that are graduating, you would expect to see sort of slow and incremental progress from here on out,” she said.
In the metro area, Atlanta Public Schools showed the most improvement. APS saw a 2.9 percent increase, reaching 79.9 percent and inching closer to the state average. Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said she’s pleased with the increase. She noted the district narrowed the achievement gap by graduating 78.2 percent of African-American students.
“We are a district where 75% of the kids are African-American,” Carstarphen said. “It’s our largest cohort and a 3.7 percentage point gain means we moved upwards of 80 or 90 more students across the stage.”
Carstarphen also pointed out that APS is also graduating more students with special needs.
“When I started in APS in 2014, the rate for students with disabilities was 18.9 percentage points,” she said. “Today, it’s at 60.5 percent.”
Carstarphen said the district has worked to clean up Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and has invested millions to ensure students with special needs receive mainstream education services.
Other metro Atlanta districts improved their rates slightly or remained flat. The Fulton County School System’s rate stayed the same: 86.8 percent. Clayton County Public Schools ticked up 2 points to 71.7 percent. The Cobb County School District moved from 83.6 percent to 85.2 percent. The Gwinnett County Public Schools went from 80.9 percent in 2016-17 to 81.7 percent. The DeKalb County School District saw a one percent increase, going from 74 to 75 percent.
A Political Issue
After the announcement, Gov. Nathan Deal tweeted: “I’m proud that every year I’ve served as Georgia’s governor, graduation rates have increased. This year, Georgia’s high school graduation rate stands at 81.6 percent, an all-time high.”
Two candidates vying to replace Deal also addressed the figures at campaign events Wednesday.
Republican nominee Brian Kemp said he’d like to see more improvement.
“There is still a lot to work on, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Kemp said. “We’ll be rolling out other things dealing with education in the days to come.”
Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams applauded the progress. However, she expressed concern about the roughly 20 percent of students who didn’t earn diplomas.
“I want to look deeper into the numbers,” Abrams said. “Which section of our children aren’t graduating? Who is being left behind? Because often that is a direct correlation to who ends up needing access to social welfare services, who ends up in our prisons.”
Officials are touting Georgia’s graduation rate as an “all-time high.” In 2012, the U.S. Education Department tightened the rules for reporting graduation rates, and made all states use the same calculation. Before that, states reported their graduation rates differently, making comparisons difficult. In 2011, state officials said Georgia’s graduation rate for the 2010-11 school year was almost 81 percent. However, it dropped to 67 percent the following year, under the new reporting rules. The new rate of 81.6 percent marks an improvement of about 14 percent.
Dana Rickman, with GPEE, says educators are used to the changes by now.
“I think everybody has sort of settled into a process about how they’re reporting, how they’re tracking, how kids are doing,” Rickman said. “So, I think you can rely on these numbers in terms of year-to-year comparison. And we probably do have some legitimate growth, albeit small, across all sub groups [categories of students], so that’s good to see.”
A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.