The state Department of Education released the figure for the first time publicly after months of preparing state lawmakers and other officials for the drop. Under the old calculation, the rate of students receiving diplomas had topped 80 percent, but officials say that number wasn’t an accurate picture of how many students actually finish high school in Georgia.
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.
Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said the state’s new career pathways initiative will help engage students who might have dropped out in the past. The new curriculum lets students choose a “career cluster” that leads them through classes tailored to what they want to study when they graduate.
Students would take the same general core of classes with basics like algebra, English and history, and at the end of their sophomore year, they choose a cluster to determine what advanced classes they take.
“An overwhelming number of students drop out because they see school as unrelentingly boring and irrelevant, and what we’re trying to do is bring back that relevance,” Barge told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “With career pathways bringing back the relevance of what students are doing, we’ll see more students choose to stay in school.”
For years, states could choose how they calculated graduation rates, creating inconsistent data across the country. The U.S. Education Department adopted a policy in 2008 that requires states to use a uniform way of measuring their graduation rates.
States across the country have been bracing for plummeting graduation rates after most waited until the deadline last year to convert to the new calculation. Many states were using a formula that didn’t accurately track dropouts and transfers and didn’t ding schools if students took longer than four years to graduate.
States already have seen drops ranging up to 20 percentage points. Experts hope the changes will draw attention to the dropout issue and lead to resources being focused on the problem.
Tim Callahan with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents more than 82,000 educators in the state, said it’s better that the state is using a more accurate formula.
“Now we need to do something about the 33 percent of young people we are not engaging in our schools,” Callahan said.