The graduation rate tracks a student class from its freshman year through four years of high school, Walker school system’s student services coordinator Bob Johnson said. For example, if the freshman class consisted of 100 students at the start of that school year and 50 students graduated with regular diplomas four years later, the graduation rate would be 50 percent.
“I don’t like to hear people say the education system is failing, because it’s not just our responsibility,” Johnson said, adding parents and the community are also factors. “It’s a whole cultural thing.”
The graduation rate at Ridgeland High School was 48.3 percent in 2003 and 2004. LaFayette High School improved from its 57.3 percent graduation rate in 2003 to 58.4 percent in 2004.
To begin aggressively reducing the dropout rate, school systems must be able to pay additional personnel, Johnson said.
“We need at least one person at each high school whose only job is to track down kids who drop out and follow them,” he said. “They need to meet with them, find out what their plans are and analyze that situation as to why they dropped out.”
Johnson said the way the rate is calculated can skew the statistics. Each state may define the graduation rate in different ways, and factor results using different formulas.
Students may slip through the cracks if they suddenly switch to another school system, Johnson said. It is possible for a former Walker student to graduate elsewhere and still count as a dropout in Walker County.
Students who leave high school and earn their general equivalency diploma, or GED, are also counted as dropouts, he said.
Special education diplomas do not count toward the graduation rate in Georgia, which is something state level administrators need to rectify, he said.
Dropout rates are figured annually, Johnson said. The numbers fluctuate from year to year. The high schools are losing roughly 10 percent of each class annually, which equals about a 40 percent dropout rate for each graduating class.
Statisticians say “the definition that Georgia is using is the most accepted way, but there is no rule that says everybody has to calculate it the same way,” he said. “Unless you know how a state is calculating the graduation rate, then you don’t know if you are comparing apples to apples (in national comparisons).”
Several factors that are out of the school system’s control worsen the dropout rate. For example, students who make several attempts to attend high school count against a school’s graduation rate and worsen its dropout rate, he said.
“There are a lot of students who will come to school, stay a few weeks, then drop out,” LaFayette High School assistant principal Heather Holloway said. “We don’t want to refuse them the opportunity to try to get their lives back together and come to school.”
If a student makes a second attempt at school and drops out again, a second dropout is marked against the school’s record, Johnson said.
“It’s kind of like the school is being punished for (letting students return), but you don’t want to deny (them) an education either,” Holloway said.
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