Some will look at the small increase in graduation rates from the Georgia Department of Education — from 78.8 percent in 2014-15 school year to 79.2 percent in the 2015-16 school year — and say, “What’s the big deal?” But let’s reverse the question: What would be the topic of conversation if the grad rate had dropped by 3 percentage points? You guessed it. The pitch forks would come out and education naysayers would be on the stump.
There are many factors that go into a rising graduation rate — and many of those factors have nothing to do with the level of education being delivered at the high schools. However, when a student enters the ninth grade, the high school has four years to address any issues developed over the past eight or nine years of education; sometimes more. In any school system, it is truly a team effort filled with teachers, counselors, administrators, media specialists and others all along the path that leads to the graduation stage.
Weaknesses in a student can be identified early. However, if they are not addressed, they can lead to problems for the rest of their k-12 careers. By the eighth grade, a student’s drop-out potential can be pretty accurately predicted, and once they enter high school, their numbers count.
What the graduation rate does show — over time — is how hard a school system is working to address the issues facing students in its system. In Bibb County the grad rate in 2014 was 58.9 percent. The latest data put the grad rate at 71.6 percent.
Dr. Curtis Jones, Bibb’s superintendent, in his first convocation stressed the need for teachers to start instilling in their students the vision of high school graduation by stressing what graduation class students were a member of. He also reminded teachers and administrators in his November 2015 blog (when the district went from 58.7 percent to a 71.6 percent graduation rate), “As we analyze why this outstanding achievement occurred, we should stay focused and realize we just upped the level of expectations by our parents and our community. If we can get 71 percent this year, they are not going to be happy with a decline next year, so let’s keep moving forward. Congratulations! This is something to celebrate!”
He was right then, and he could use the same phrase today. All schools have to stay on their game — not just the high schools. While Howard had an increase over last year of 7.5 percent, Central, 0.4 percent, Rutland 5 percent, Northeast 3.6 percent, Westside dropped 3.8 percent, as did Southwest by 4.1 percent. The only other high school to see its graduation rate drop among Bibb, Houston, Monroe, Peach and Jones counties was Houston County High School with a dip of 1.5 percent.
Various districts employ different strategies to make sure students stay in school and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Some districts have active partnerships with colleges and universities. Some schools hold Saturday sessions and credit recovery sessions during holiday periods where students can catch up, or alternative night sessions such as those held at Westside High School.
Again, the graduation rates for 2015-16 cohort, started in 2012, so work has to start long before students of any cohort walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. All states are now calculating graduation rates using the same formula, so the state-to-state data can be accurately compared.
Will there ever come a time when a 100 percent graduation rate is always firmly in hand without the extra attention? Every cohort of students presents challenges. Times are constantly changing. Remediation programs used today will have to be adjusted to address how society evolves throughout the 21st century.
One thing is certain, a high school diploma, while not the ticket to a good job and career that it once was, is still absolutely necessary to open the doors of higher education that hold the keys to success.