According to the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia’s schools are successfully graduating more students than in previous years. Georgia’s graduation rate rose by 6.3 percentage points. In 2014 the state had a 72.5 percent graduation rate and this year it’s 78.8. While still lower than the national available average of 81 percent, the numbers released this week for Georgia school districts is an indication that graduation rates will continue to climb. Metro Atlanta school systems leaders are convinced that solid academic planning is the reason why.
Topping Metro Atlanta’s districts with the highest graduation rate is Fulton County Schools. The 2015 Fulton County graduation rate stands at 85.3 percent. This is a 6.6 percent increase over the 2014 graduation rate of 78.7 percent. The district credits its steady progress in part to its five-year Fulton County Schools Strategic Plan which focuses on three specific goals including increasing the district’s graduation rate to 90% by 2017. With only two academic years left to fulfill that plan, Fulton is just 4.7 percentage points shy of reaching its ambitious target.
According to Fulton County Interim Superintendent, Kenneth Zeff, the district has “set the bar very high.”
“Our students, teachers, and administrators remain focused on the path and requirements for a high school diploma. The core of our charter system approach is local control and ownership, and our school communities deserve the credit for this success,” said Zeff.
2015 data not only show that almost every Fulton high school had graduation increases from the previous year, but some school even achieved double-digit gains. Those schools with double-digit points include: McClarin High School (+23.7%), Creekside High School (+18.5%), Independence High School (+15.4%), North Springs Charter High School (+12.5%), and Banneker High School (+11.6%).
Creekside High School and Banneker High School credits their success to creating a “climate of higher expectations among students, staff and parents”. Last year Creekside started a Success Academy for all grades to provide help to struggling students after school. Counselors also monitor students’ progress toward earning a diploma, and communicate with parents to make sure students are meeting graduation requirements. At Banneker High School the school conducts transcript audits and has a committee consisting of counselors, school leaders and social workers that make sure students are in the correct classes required for graduation.
North Springs Charter High School attributes its graduation rate increase to a three-year plan that started in 2013. The school identifies and works with at-risk sophomores so they can receive needed support and recovery options earlier in their high school career. North Springs Charter also offers a Freshman Success Class for ninth graders.
According to state graduation figures released by the Georgia Department of Education, the Henry County School District has the second highest graduation rate. The latest numbers indicate a graduation rate of 84.1 percent of eligible students compared to 78.1 percent the previous year. The numbers also show an 11-point increase over the past five years.
When compared to other districts across Georgia in 2015, Henry County Schools had the sixth largest senior class, and the school system graduated the fifth most seniors in the state. In both comparisons – top six largest systems based on senior class size and top five largest systems based on seniors graduated – Henry County Schools carries the second highest graduation rate.
Superintendent Rodney Bowler points to current improved SAT and ACT scores as an indication that the graduation rates with continue to increase.
“I could not be more proud of our students and our staff for the efforts put forth last year in helping achieve improved test scores and now graduation rates. This goes to show that we are making strides in the right direction, and we’ll build off of this positive momentum to graduate more students while helping them with their ACT and SAT scores. My congratulations to everyone who made this all possible, including our parents and community members,” said Bowler.
Among the system’ nine traditional high schools, Henry County High School saw the largest increase in its graduation rate as it climbed from 69.3 percent to 84.2 percent. Other traditional high schools raising their graduation rates by double digits include: Woodland (12 points) and Stockbridge (11.1 points) high schools.
Dutchtown High School achieved the highest graduating rate of the district at 94 percent of their senior class graduating in four years. They improved their score by 7.4 percentage points over last year’s score. Patrick Henry High Academy, now known as EXCEL Academy, saw their graduation rate increase by 19.2 percentage points, the largest increase of any recorded school in Henry County.
Georgia’s largest school district, Gwinnett County Public Schools, credits its rigorous college and career program called Academic Knowledge and Skills Curriculum (AKS) for its improving graduation rate. According to the Georgia stats, Gwinnett graduation rate of 78.1 percent represents a 3.1 percentage point increase over last year and a 10.5 percentage point increase over the last five years. The 2015 results revealed that 17 of Gwinnett’s 19 traditional high schools demonstrated improvement in the four-year cohort graduation rate over the previous year.
Gwinnett’s system wide AKS curriculum is designed to provide students with essential academic concepts for each grade level. AKS is aligned to the state-adopted Georgia Standards of Excellence in Language Arts (K-12), Mathematics (K-12), and literacy standards for Science, Social Studies, and Technical Education for middle and high school students. The Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) are in place for other content areas.
Among the Gwinnett County high schools with the highest graduation rates are: Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (98.9 percent), North Gwinnett High School (93.2 percent), and Brookwood High School (92.5 percent). Several schools saw impressive
one-year gains: Meadowcreek High School (16.5 percent), South Gwinnett High School (8.9 percent), and Duluth High School (8.4 percent). Also significant are the schools that have shown the greatest growth in their graduation rates over the last five years (Lanier High School- up 23.8
percent, Central Gwinnett High School- up 23.3 percent, and South Gwinnett High School- up 23 percent).
Associate Superintendent for School Improvement and Operations Kevin Tashlein is pleased with the progress to date but knows there is work still to do.
“With 10 percent of the state’s students attending our schools, the work we have done to improve the graduation rate over the past few years has certainly had a positive impact on the state’s rate. More importantly, it is making a difference in the lives of our students. It is not enough that just more of them are graduating in four years… we have to ensure that they are better prepared for college and the workplace. That is our ultimate goal”, said Tashlein.
Part of the strategy success for the Atlanta Public School System includes providing more support to its high school seniors using a new data systems and credit recovery options. According to the Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Public Schools stats show 2015 four-year cohort graduation rate is 71.5 percent, 12.4 percentage points higher than the 2014 cohort. As a result, APS closed the gap with the state by 6.1 percentage points.
Among APS high schools with the most significant increase in graduation performance includes: Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (94 percent), Henry Grady (89.7 percent), North Atlanta (81.5 percent), Benjamin E. Mays (81.9 percent), and the South Atlanta Schools of Health (87.9 percentage points) and Computer Animation and Design (77.8 percent). While the rate for Carver Early College (98.6 percent) did not increase, it continues to achieve the highest graduation rates in the district. KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (92.9 percent) achieved one of the highest rates with its first graduating class.
Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen said she is proud of the accomplishments of these high schools and other APS high school who have also contributed to the goal of graduating more students. She also notes that a variety of factors have contributed to APS’s significant percentage gains in graduation.
“After carefully verifying our data, it seems clear that while changes in the state testing requirements likely played a role in these gains, targeted district-based efforts were also major reasons for these improvements. Throughout last school year, APS made a strong effort to help our students remain on a path to earning a diploma,” said Dr. Carstarphen.
Among district-level changes implemented in 2014-2015 to support high school seniors include APS graduation coaches and counselors now having access to a newly designed data management system to track academic process of seniors. The system includes a dashboard application that helps coaches keep track of their cohorts. Counselors completed periodic Graduation Status Reports on each student where they categorized each student as on-or-off-track for graduation. The district’s Data and Information Group and the Office of High Schools collaborated to design the applications and systems. Many seniors participated in credit-recovery options offered through the Atlanta Virtual Academy. These courses allowed students to make-up credits that they needed for graduation.
DeKalb County School District’s high school graduation rate has significantly grown since 2013 according to the state’s numbers. The 2015 rate of 70.9 percent resulted in a 10.7 point graduation rate improvement since 2013 for the system’s 25 high schools. Superintendent Dr. R. Stephen Green said that while work is still needed, the focus on student achievement and career and college readiness is paying off.
“Combined with the recent 103-point increase in SAT scores for our college bound students, it is clear that we are on the right path. Our students are taking advantage of the rigorous curriculum and instruction they experience each day in the classroom”, Said Dr. Green.
Significant findings among DeKalb high schools include: The DeKalb School for the Arts gaining a perfect 100 percent graduation rate, DeKalb Early College Academy and Arabia Mountain both showing graduation rates of 90+ percent, and Chamblee, Lakeside, Redan and Tucker high schools all have 80+ percent graduation rates. Out of 19 Title I schools, 18 schools increased their rates and six schools experienced double-digit growth.
DeKalb has a graduation plan that begins when students enter the ninth grade. Each high school has individualized support programs. Post-secondary transition specialists are housed in eight of the districts lower-performing high schools to add an extra layer of student support. Senior advisement involves monitoring students’ progress and parent notifications if remediation is needed. Student have the option to earn needed credits through DeKalb Online Academy, Georgia Virtual School and local academic credit recovery programs.
Another contributing factor to higher 2015 graduation rates across Georgia is the fact that students with disabilities were able to receive general education diplomas due to both state assessment policy changes and improved special education student data tracking. Also, the elimination of the Georgia High School Graduation Test has helped students from all school districts gain diplomas who may have otherwise not done well on the test.