Gov. Sonny Perdue and state school superintendent Brad Bryant announced the good news this week. Bryant pointed to improvement "across the board for all students in every subgroup."
The numbers certainly are impressive: African-American students improved their graduation rate to 75.8 percent, up 23 points from 2003. Hispanics posted a 77.6 percent rate, up more than 29 points, and economically disadvantaged students had a 76 percent rate, up more than 24 points since 2003.
Perdue credited the state's pioneering program of putting graduation coaches in all middle and high schools to focus on students at risk of dropping out - a program "no other state had even thought of," the governor said.
No doubt graduation coaches have had an impact, but no doubt it would have been even greater had Perdue not shifted the $40 million funding from a line item in the state budget to the general fund last year, allowing schools to spend the money as they pleased. As a result, at least 170 graduation coaches were cut out of 840 statewide. Cobb and Marietta were among school districts that stuck with most or all of their graduation coaches despite temptations to balance the budget by cutting these counselors.
A far weightier issue is the method used by Georgia education officials to calculate the graduation rate. It's called the "leaver rate," used by more than 30 states. But this method relies on incomplete dropout data and other information, critics say.
Various reports suggest that Georgia's graduation rate, using a different method, was less than 60 percent in 2007 and 2005. For example, the EPE Research Center in its report last June pegged the rate at 58.1 percent for the class of 2005 versus a national average of 70.6 percent. Georgia ranked sixth from the bottom among all the states, according to the research center which said on average 331 students were dropping out every school day in Georgia.
The idea that the rate has vaulted to almost 81 percent was greeted with skepticism by the EPE research director. On that point, state Superintendent Bryant virtually conceded, saying Georgia is going along with a nationwide move to the "cohort rate" of figuring the percentage of students that graduate. It's supposed to be "more fair."
The cohort method will track students through grades 9-12 to the point where they have diplomas in their hands. And it will mean a drop in Georgia's graduation rate, Bryant admits, saying the state board of education is expecting this to happen. But he has said he's more concerned about keeping the graduation rate on an uptrend.
That's all the people of Georgia need - another big letdown on educational achievement because of still another change in methodology. Can we get it right this time?