Nancy Badertscher and Kelly Guckian report in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution that 30,751 students dropped out in 2011, twice the amount previously reported.
The discrepancy came to light because this year the federal government made all states use a new, more rigorous method to calculate graduation rates. Under the new formula, the state’s graduation rate plunged from 80.9 percent to 67.4 percent, one of the nation’s lowest.
Part of the reason for the decline is that the new formula defines a graduate as someone who earns a diploma in four years, though thousands of students take five years or longer. But the AJC’s analysis shows — for the first time — how much of the discrepancy stemmed from a failure to accurately measure how many students drop out.
For years, inflated graduation rates helped state and local districts meet political pressures and claim success. But undercounting the number of dropouts did nothing for the kids who quit school unnoticed.
Under the state’s old formula, students who disappeared from a school’s rolls were often written off as transfers without evidence that they had landed in another school. In general, students were only counted as dropouts if they formally declared that they were quitting school, something researchers say they seldom do.
The new method takes the opposite tack, counting a student as a dropout unless the district can show that he or she enrolled elsewhere.
The new federal graduation rate formula measures students who graduate high school in four years. As the article points out some number of students graduate in more than four but those cases are nowhere near 30,751.
It’s important to accurately understand the problem before it can be addressed. I’m sure fingers will be pointed in many directions as people attempt to place or deflect blame.
There is no easy answer to this problem but we must take it head on. As a Brookings Institute study discovered, to avoid poverty you need to do three things: 1) Graduate from high school, 2) Wait to get married until after 21 and do not have children till after being married, and 3) Have a full-time job.
Two-thirds of Georgia’s students, including two-thirds of students in my home county Gwinnett, already have one strike against them. Will we come together and address this problem or continue pointing fingers?