JEFF MEADORS: Graduation rates show some promise

The Christian Science Monitor released good news on America’s schools last week, but do early literacy and numeracy truths belie expert predictions?

Citing data from the U.S. Department of Education the Monitor reported 80 percent of U.S. high school students now graduate from high school within four years, the highest national average since data collection on graduation rates began.

Four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates are the new standard, defining the cohort from the time a student becomes a freshman. The rate is calculated using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers.

School rates may suffer due to poor data collection, inept bookkeeping, and a failure to track transfers.

Poverty impacts rates also. New data show that more than 40 percent of students from low-income families did not graduate in Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico and Minnesota. And rates vary significantly from state to state for students with disabilities.

Graduation rate calculations are imperfect exercises subject to building-level error and, like most data on schools, are rearview mirror indices. But they bear heavily on local economics. Ask a Realtor.

Some experts predict U.S. graduation rates will hit 90 percent by the year 2020, compelling impetus for job creation in a country where 40 percent of last year’s college graduates struggle to find meaningful work.

Some Georgia systems and individual high schools are already there.

Georgia’s state rate, however, falls far shy at 71.5 percent, up from 69.7 percent in 2012. In the Georgia class of 2013, 35,341 students from the total 124,056 did not graduate within four years. Of their 88,715 peers who graduated only 40.2% (applying the most recent publicly available HOPE rates) left high school eligible for HOPE scholarships.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows 58 percent of jobs by 2018 in Georgia will require post-secondary degrees. In states like Minnesota and North Dakota that percentage rises to 70 percent. A pipeline of qualified students is vital.

Locally, Decatur City Schools holds a current graduation rate of 93.9 percent, Henry County Schools has a rate of 78.5 percent and Morgan County’s rate is 85.6 percent.

Newton County’s modified new rate is 73 percent. The original 71.3 percent became adjusted following a request from the district to the state to allow for an update of data. A five-day window was granted resulting in a 1.7 percent improvement to the rate. Eastside High graduated 88.1 percent of its cohort, just 1.9 percent shy of the 2020 projection by experts referenced above.

Oconee County’s rate of 91 percent includes North Oconee High’s 91.5 percent and Oconee County High at 90.3 percent.

Rockdale County generated a 78 percent graduation rate with Rockdale County High School at 80.1 percent. Social Circle City Schools graduated 75.6 percent, while Walton County’s 80.7 percent rate includes Loganville High graduating 86.8 percent of its cohort.

Georgia must build a future workforce matching 2018 requirements or employers will seek recruits outside of Georgia. A Savannah employer recently looked to Michigan for qualified welders.

National Association of Educational Progress data from 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011 find Georgia students in grades 4 and 8 falling below national NAEP scale scores in reading, mathematics, science and writing, an unfortunate wrinkle that must be ironed into any strategy aiming for higher rates.

Early literacy and numeracy are critical links to ultimate completion, for remediation exacts high personal and economic costs and often delivers lackluster results.