Cobb, Marietta grad rates sank along with state
by Jeff Martin, Associated Press
November 28, 2012 12:47 AM | 2813 views | 6 6 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Jeff Martin

Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — Georgia’s high school graduation rate of 67 percent ranks it behind all of its neighboring states and puts it among the lowest in the nation under new federal measurements released by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report details four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-11 — the first year for which all states used a common measure, federal officials say.

Only two states — Nevada and New Mexico — and the District of Columbia fared worse than Georgia in the new rankings released Monday.

“It’s disappointing, of course, but it’s good to know the real truth, if you will, of where we stand,” said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

“Not that many years ago, we were using sort of a feel-good calculation that some people were saying was as high as 80 percent,” Callahan said. “I think the more honest calculation will help us address the problem more honestly.”

Under the new method, Cobb’s graduation rate for its 16 high schools went from 84.7 percent to 73.3 percent, dropping 11.4 percentage points, and Marietta City School’s graduation rate, which includes figures from Marietta High School and the two residential treatments centers, dropped from 85.8 percent to 56.0 percent, or 29.8 percentage points.

In the past, states used varying methods to calculate their graduation rates, so the numbers were unreliable for state-by-state comparisons, federal officials said in announcing the new numbers.

The new data can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and increase graduation rates, the federal education agency said.

Despite the low ranking, Georgia’s graduation rate has been improving in recent years, regardless of which methods are used to calculate it, state School Superintendent John Barge said.

Asked how he would explain the low rate to corporations considering a move to Georgia, Barge said initiatives are in place to make needed improvements.

“We’re not where we need to be, but we do have the right pieces in place to continue to move the needle forward on graduation rates,” he said.

Educators nationwide knew the numbers were coming, and Georgia officials expected the state’s figure to be significantly lower under the new reporting system.

Georgia PTA President Donna Kosicki recalls a meeting with lawmakers, principals and others shortly after Barge was appointed state school superintendent. Barge informed the group that Georgia’s graduation rate would drop under the new federal calculations.

The new numbers are based on how many students graduate within four years, which sharply lowered rates from previous years, when longer timeframes were used by some states.

Among states bordering Georgia, Tennessee scored highest with an overall rate of 86 percent, followed by North Carolina at 78 percent.

Nevada was last among states with a 62 percent graduation rate.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Education scored worse than all of the states with a graduation rate of 61 percent.

In Georgia, “while 67 percent is not good enough for our kids, there are things in place already to get all of us to work together, to take that number higher,” Kosicki said.

Despite this week’s ranking, Kosicki points to other indicators of strong student achievement in Georgia schools and new initiatives aimed to further improvement. She says she’s never been more excited about making education gains for Georgia’s students than she is right now.

Some of the new initiatives, which include efforts to help prepare Georgia students for college and careers after high school, are outlined in a new website, gafuturenow.org.

Georgia students have also made significant gains on standardized tests.

The state leads the nation in year-to-year growth on the most recent national tests, Barge said recently.

Georgia made gains in the most recent SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement (AP), and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Math, Reading and Science.

“The progress Georgia’s students have made on these national tests is something of which we should all be very proud,” Barge said in a statement earlier this month. “I get very frustrated hearing people say Georgia’s education system is so bad. We certainly have a lot of room to grow and improvements to make, but these results show that we’re moving in the right direction.”

There’s an assumption of consistency across the U.S. with the new figures, but states still differ in how they compile and report rates, even under the new system, Barge said Tuesday. States also have varying graduation expectations for students, he added.

“It is more accurate, but it’s still not getting at that true apples-to-apples comparison,” Barge said.

The broader discussion about Georgia’s graduation and drop-out rates should also include poverty, heath care and the well-being of very young children, Callahan said.

“I think the elephant in the room is poverty,” Callahan said.

“We haves students arriving at our doors in kindergarten or in first grade who have not had proper nutrition, who have not been read to,” said Callahan, a former teacher. “That early deprivation is a serious challenge, and it manifests itself years later in dropout rates. So I think we need to address childhood poverty and childhood health issues more comprehensively than we have been doing.”
Comments
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The Man
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November 29, 2012
Poverty is a huge problem that will not be addressed as long as we are a huge republican state. Keep people in their situation and only look out for yourself, or people like you. Never a good thing for the betterment of the state, or the country.
@RespectfullyDisagre
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November 28, 2012
Although poverty may not be the primary reason for low graduation rates, all of the other factors surrounding the impoverished - compounded- may very well. Having grown up in and now out of poverty, I can tell you that there are factors that are related that affect the learning of the child. For one, when you are impoverished, even as a child, you become concerned with eating, having lights on at home, having heat on in the winter and A/C in the summer; you become concerned and at times even entangled with crime - either as a victim, witness (very traumatic), or perpertrator. Even if your parent(s) receives government assistance, it does not mean that they no how to handle what they get, especially if the receipt of such aid doesnt come with strings attached or mandatory training. I believe that poverty is therefore the root cause of many ailments. Its not an excuse, just the reality. My mother has been an educator for nearly 40 years and she reminded me earlier this year that we have to leave our "middle-class" values at the door when trying to educate and serve people that may not share or even be AWARE that their values might be contributing to their circumstance
RespectfullyDisagree
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November 28, 2012
I totally understand where the other readers/comments are coming from. IT's a difficult situation with no easy answers. I've been in education myself since 1980 and my single mother was a teacher for over 40 years also spending most of that time in an inner city school. I've taught in the inner city, urban, suburban and private schools in 4 different states. Everyone has circumstances that they bring to school with them. It's up to us as teachers to educate ALL children and help them learn that Life is not always easy. However, we need to rise to the occasion and give our best in all that we do. If we have high expectations for our students - they will work towards them. The same is true of low expectations - students will do the bare minimum if that is what's expected. I wish I had a true solution to this problem.
VFP42
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November 27, 2012
The AP has it all wrong. This is great news for Georgia!!! Why do they try to make it sound bad?

A lower tax rate means more tax revenue, so obviously a lower graduation rate means more graduates!

We have just about the lowest graduation RATE, so of course that means we have the MOST graduates!

Our schools are the easiest in the country, so why wouldn't we have the most graduates? Of course we have the most graduates! The rate is the lowerest here! Lowest rate = The Mostest! Duh!!

What should we expect in our Republican state but excellence in all areas!??!?!
RespectfullyDisagree
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November 27, 2012
While I do feel the poverty can affect one's life - I don't agree that poverty is the reason for a low graduation rate. Parents who are willing to be parents to the children are the key to a successful education of any child. Those who are in the poverty ranks qualify for free breakfast and lunch for their children while at school. If they qualify for free or reduced lunch, then they qualify for government assistance and a food program. The children shoud not be hungry. These students almost always are in schools that qualify for Title I funds where there are more teachers available to combat low reading and math skills. Kids who are claimed to be "at risk" have more opportunities and funds available to help them than other students. The schools simply cannot raise these children. We need to make parents accountable for their own children. Until this happens, our education system in Georgia will remain broken.
East Cobb Mom
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November 28, 2012
And I respectfully disagree with you. It is in fact the exact opposite that is true. Until we stop expecting bad parents to turn into nurturing, academically supportive parents (especially by themselves), our education system in Georgia will remain broken. Instead, we must figure out ways to successfully educate children of bad parents, so, unlike their parents, they become productive members of society and can nurture and support their own children.

Also, "at risk" kids do not, under any reasonable measure, have "more opportunities" than advantaged kids. I have no problem focusing more educational resources and attention on them to try to compensate for the things at home that have put them "at risk." When it works, we help not only them, but our community as a whole. It's a win, win.
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