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State School Superintendent visits Rockdale Career Academy

Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge

Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge

CONYERS -- Georgia School Superintendent John Barge said in Conyers Wednesday that the state is doing a better job at educating children than most think but still has to do a better job of preparing children for vocational training after high school.

Barge spoke to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County Wednesday morning and toured Rockdale Career Academy. Part of the reason for the visit was to highlight how the county is ahead of others with RCA. The new law -- HB 186 -- passed this year will require all high school freshmen next fall to have a designated career pathway.

"We're doing a better job than what most folks communicate. Do we have room to grow? Absolutely. If we don't do something to address the needs for all of our kids, we're going to be losing a significant portion of them because they are leaving. They don't see the relevance in what they are doing."

Barge said Rockdale is ahead of the curve with vocational instruction offered at RCA. He said the target is to get able-bodied students who drop out of school to stay in school and give them a better chance to succeed in secondary training.

"The research shows some students drop out because they do struggle, but the overwhelming majority drop out because they are bored," he said. "They see high school as unrelentingly boring and not relevant to what they want to do. They don't see a connection between school and a career."

Barge said that the curriculum requirement must be flexible enough to allow schools to offer students more options. The example he provided was the fact that students are required to take four years of science to graduate. Students typically take the required courses and then an elective that is the easiest to pass, not based on what they plan to do after graduation.

Barge said that needs to change to where a student with an interest in the medical field or nursing will be directed to take human anatomy.

"I believe our greatest challenge, is to find out from children what they are passionate about and design an educational opportunity for them around that passion so they can be the best prepared to be successful when they leave us," he said.

Barge also discussed a change in tabulating graduation rates that is being required by the federal government. Georgia uses one method called the lever rate that allows the state to count graduation of students who are held back in summer school or a fifth year until they meet graduation requirements.

The new federal guidelines require a straight, four-year count called the cohort rate, and does not include those students held back. Barge told the audience to expect graduation rates, currently around 80 percent, to drop 10 percent or more.

"What you see is that regardless of the method of calculation is that Georgia's rate of improvement is significant in graduating more students than ever before," Barge said.

He also talked about how Georgia will never meet the No Child Left Behind Act's goal of 100 percent graduation by 2014 due to special needs students. Barge explained most special needs students will never attain a high school diploma due to the severity of their disabilities and that the federal government does not recognize a special education diploma as proof of graduation.

"So our students, who we are required by law, by the federal government, to educate that are severely, profoundly disabled, we have students who we stomach-tube feed, catheterize, on a daily basis in systems all across Georgia," he said. "And for some of those students progress for them is for their eyes to follow a hand from one direction to another. Those students will never get a high school diploma."

Barge also said test scores for Georgia are not indicative of how well students are prepared for secondary training. Georgia is ranked 48th in the nation for SAT scores with 80 percent of Georgia's students taking the test.

Barge said students not preparing for college should not take the SAT. He noted the career pathways requirement next year should direct students to the proper tests for entering either college or a two-year vocational training school and, in turn, improve SAT scores.

He added that Georgia ranks 11th in the nation in high school students earning college credits. For black students, Georgia is ranked third in the nation.

"We're doing a better job than what most folks communicate. Do we have room to grow? Absolutely," he said. "If we don't do something to address the needs for all of our kids, we're going to be losing a significant portion of them because they are leaving. They don't see the relevance in what they are doing."