COVINGTON -- A new federally-mandated graduation rate calculation for the Newton County School System is about 3 percent below the state's new rate and about 20 percent lower than previously released; it includes its charter school's 7 percent rate.
The Georgia Department of Education announced Tuesday morning that the rate for NCSS is 64.14 percent, compared to the state's new rate of 67.4 percent, which adheres to a 2008 update to federal education regulations.
The new calculation, known as the adjusted cohort rate, is meant to allow states to more uniformly compare graduation rates across the nation.
"The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school," said State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge in a press release. "I believe that in order to tackle a problem you have to have honest and accurate data. We will be able to use this new data as a baseline to see how our important initiatives are impacting graduation rates in the future."
The state reported NCSS as having an 85 percent rate in 2011 and 84.2 in 2010.
"It is tough accountability, but I believe it is the right accountability," NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews wrote in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. "In NCSS, we have significant school improvement efforts underway in terms of professional development for teachers and administrators and with the opening of the Newton College & Career Academy, we now are in a better position to impact future cohort graduation rates going forward. This is not an 'overnight' challenge but rather is one of long duration."
Across the state, Rockdale County Public Schools earned a 66.20 percent graduation rate under the new calculation, Social Circle City Schools 68.53, Morgan County Schools 86.09, Trion City Schools 95.88, Chickamauga City Schools 97.44, Taliaferro County Schools 40 percent and Crawford County Schools 42.45 percent.
Historically, states have calculated graduation rates using varying methods, creating inconsistent data from one state to the next, state officials said.
The new formula, which better accounts for dropouts, divides the number of graduates in a given year by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. State officials said the graduation rate may appear dramatically different even if the number of students who actually graduate hasn't changed.
"It's important that it gets out that these drops aren't the result of a state doing worse," said Tara N. Tucci, a senior research and policy associate at the Washington-based advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education. "Now we have an accurate picture."
Under the old calculation, the rate of students receiving diplomas had topped 80 percent, and now states, systems and schools are seeing drops up to about 20 percent.
Individually, the state reported that Alcovy High School's graduation rate is 64.71, Eastside's is 70.60, Newton's is 66.33 and Challenge Charter Academy's is 7.14.
"I am puzzled about the numbers. It seems to me, that CCA would have a 'not applicable,'" said CCA's principal Ernetta Dailey-Worthy, adding that the school's first ninth-grade class was in 2008-09 and is not scheduled to graduate until May 2012. "We have not had any cohort of students for four full years prior to this school year, and, therefore, do not understand how CCA was assigned a percentage. I look forward to receiving clarification."
The state reported the Dekalb Alternative Night School to have a 2.46 percent rate and GIVE East in Gwinnett County to have a 3.61 percent rate, and several schools reported a 0 percent rate. Those with 0 or low grad rates are either residential facilities where the students may well have graduated from the home high school, are alternative high schools with transient populations, are 9th grade academies or reflect not enough students to calculate a statistically reliable rate, according to the GaDOE.
Also across the state, a few schools -- the Savannah Arts Academy, Johnson Magnet in Richmond County, Woody Gap High in Union County and the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology -- earned a 100 percent graduation rate.
"We've known for some time and communicated that this new formula would show a lower graduation rate than the rate under the previous formula," Barge said. "However, regardless of calculation formula, the state has significantly raised graduation rates over the last several years, but there is still much work to do."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.